2 dead as plane crashes in Sugar Grove

By on January 24, 2010

updated 1-28-10
by Susan O’Neill
SUGAR GROVE—Sugar Grove Fire Chief Marty Kunkel was the first responder to the scene of a plane crash in Sugar Grove Township on Saturday evening.

The plane was a twin-engine Piper Aerostar, and had just taken off from the Aurora Municipal Airport headed for Denver.

Kunkel said he was in his garage at about 7 p.m. when he heard the sound of a plane flying low to the ground just before impact. He said he remembered noting that the weather was cloudy and foggy.

He said the sound of the crash was so loud that it rattled the windows in his house. After calling dispatch, he grabbed his coat, expecting to find the plane in his back yard.

Two doors down, he found that the plane had crashed into the garage of a residence north of 43W420 Old Oak Road near Route 47.

“There was flaming debris down the side of the house and a massive amount of debris in the area,” he said.

A couple of Sugar Grove police officers arrived at the scene, including one who was also a Geneva firefighter. Once they made sure that all of the occupants were out of the house, they extinguished the fire.

The people in the house included the wife of the couple who owned the house, her mother and her two children.

“The crash had so severely detonated the plane that there was no chance for survivors,” Kunkel said.

The pilot and his passenger were killed. The pilot, 37-year-old Gary Lee Bradford of Hollywood, Fla., was an instrument-rated pilot, Aurora Airport Director Bob Rieser said. His passenger, 32-year-old Drago Strahija, was from Lakeworth, Fla.

The two men had stopped in Texas prior to coming to the area on Friday night. They spent the night before taking off for Denver on Saturday.

The NTSB and FAA are continuing the investigation into the crash. There are no details available at this time regarding why the plane crashed or the events that led up to the crash. Route 47 was closed between Bliss and Merrill roads from 7 until 11:30 p.m.

“It was a very unfortunate accident,” Rieser said. “It was very fortunate that nobody on the ground got hurt.”