Ray Harris, a businessman from Marion, Indiana, and his two teenage daughters died in a plane crash yesterday afternoon after the parachute failed to slow the craft down.
Ray Harris, 47, and his daughters, Ramie and Shey, perished, along with a man believed to be the co-pilot, after the single-engined Cirrus-SR2 plummeted into a farm field near the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake.
It shattered into several pieces, killing all on board instantly, while on its way from Marion, Indiana to Wheaton, Illinois, where Shey Harris, the eldest daughter, attended college.
Wayne Sebold, Mayor of Marion, confirmed the identities of the victims as Ray Harris, a Chrysler dealership owner and former city water board president, and his daughters.
Ronnie Carmin, treasurer of the Marion Pilots Club, which owned the plane, also said the businessman was scheduled to fly the plane yesterday.
Ronnie Carmin said he was told that Ray Harris had fueled up the plane and taken off from Marion Municipal Airport around 10:00 a.m. Saturday.
The cause of the crash, around 10:30 a.m., was not immediately known.
But witnesses said the four-seat model’s parachute, which designed to lower the aircraft to safety after loss of control or engine failure, did not slow the craft down when it was deployed.
It became caught around a tree and may have led to the plane breaking up, they suggested.
The first people to the scene described the crash as “horrific”.
One witness described a white stream coming from the plane as it fell and a large cloud of dust after it crashed to the ground.
“There was nothing anyone could do,” Darren Smith, one of the first people on the scene, told the Daily Herald.
Darren Smith heard an aircraft in trouble around 10:30 a.m. It broke through the clouds above his head and crashed in the soybean field.
“I saw it a split second before it hit the ground,” he said.
“It was a horrific crash, pretty much nose first into the ground. The impact was tremendous.”
His son, Cal Smith, was in another field when he heard the impact.
“It kind of sounded like a gas pipe exploded,” Cal Smith told the Herald.
When he ran to the crash site, he saw bodies lying on the field along with a plastic container with popcorn and papers from the airplane.
“We tried to help, but there was no help that could be given,” Darren Smith said.
Farmer Marvin Marquardt, who owns the property, said the pilot may have been deploying the parachute as the plane plummeted.
The orange parachute was found wrapped around an oak tree and may have contributed to the breakup of the aircraft, Marquardt suggested.
Another witness to the crash, from The Lord and Savior Lutheran Church and School across the street, said the plane had “disintegrated”.
The Federal Aviation Administration is on the scene investigating whether rules of flight were followed, if the pilot was licensed and if the plane was properly maintained and registered, officials said.
The plane crashed near Route 14 and North Ridgefield Road.
It was flying by “visual flight rules”, which means looking out the window, so the pilot was not talking with air traffic control, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said.
The Marion Pilots Club Inc. in Marion, Indiana, is the registered owner of the plane, according to the Federal Aviation Administration registry.