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Two Men Killed in Twin-Engine Plane Crash

Two Men Killed in Twin-Engine Plane Crash

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Chicago Tribune via YellowBrix

January 25, 2010

HOLLYWOOD, FL – Two south Florida men who family members said were traveling on business were killed in a twin-engine plane crash Saturday night in a far west Chicago suburb.

The pilot, Gary Bradford Jr., 37, of Hollywood, Fla., and his passenger, Drago Strahija, 32, of Lake Worth, Fla., had come from Texas, spent a night in west suburban Aurora and were on their way to Denver, Kane County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Pat Gengler said.

Bradford was flying a twin-engine Piper Aerostar 601P when he crashed into a home for unknown reasons shortly before 7 p.m. Saturday in Sugar Grove Township, said Pam Sullivan, senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. Bradford, who was instrument-rated and licensed as a pilot, had taken off about 6:52 p.m., Sullivan said.

NTSB investigators and Sugar Grove emergency responders slogged through the mud outside the home near Old Oaks Road and Illinois Highway 47 on Sunday, gathering debris and preparing to move the plane to another location for reconstruction, Gengler said.

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The plane’s tail number is N222AQ, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and is registered to ENS Corp. in Hollywood, Fla. Bradford owned ENS Corp., a software company where Strahija worked, said Bradford’s father, Gary Bradford Sr. Family members of both men said they were too distraught to speak much to the media.

“We’re grieving; we’re just torn apart right now,” said the elder Bradford, who said his son started ENS in 1999, about the same time he sought his pilot’s license. “He was a true entrepreneur.”

One of Strahija’s siblings said he was always technologically inclined and had studied computers in college. She said Strahija, of both Yugoslavian and Venezuelan origin, was born in the South American country but immigrated with his family to the Miami area.

“He was a great guy,” said Strahija’s sister, Anita Strahija, adding that the terrible accident had caught the family off-guard. “It is a tragedy.”

Strahija was unmarried, his sister said, and Bradford’s father said his son was married.

Debris from the crash that took the men’s lives also hit a nearby home, lighting a car in the garage on fire, but none of the four residents inside were hurt, Gengler said. The evidence appears to show a “high-velocity impact” that broke the plane into several pieces, he said.

Sullivan said she could not speculate as to the cause of the accident.

“We’re in the very early stages of our investigation,” she said.

Sullivan said no other pilots in the area reported weather-related problems, but she noted that there were foggy conditions at the time. She said the control tower nearest the plane did not hear distress signals or communications before the crash.

Witnesses — including Sugar Grove Fire Chief Marty Kunkel, who lives nearby — reported hearing loud engine noises before the crash.

“I knew it didn’t seem quite right,” said Kunkel, who at first thought the plane had crashed on his property. When Kunkel went outside, he saw a “very large” debris field, with about 10 separate fires burning.

The fire chief said he ran to the house and found two women — a mother and a grandmother — and two children in the home. Police took the family away for their own safety, Kunkel said. The blazes, extinguished within about 15 minutes, led Kunkel to believe the plane’s fuel load had vaporized over the area and caught fire. He said there are eight homes in the subdivision in which the crash took place.

The owners of the house hit by crash debris have not returned home, officials said on Sunday.


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