Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Palos pilot offers appreciation to those who helped after floatplane went adrift

A man who was on a hike through Starved Rock State Park on Wednesday and didn't realize the floatplane he had piloted to get there was adrift in the Illinois River offered appreciation and apologies to those who responded during the incident.

"I felt really badly about the whole situation and apologized," Brett Valiquet, 68, of Palos Hills said Thursday. "I said I appreciated everything they had done."

Valiquet on Wednesday flew the ultralight floatplane from Cushing Field in Newark, Ill., in order to hike the park, which is located near Utica, about 100 miles west of Chicago.

"I had pulled the plane completely up on the beach," he said.

But a nearby dam opened up and raised the water level, which pulled the aircraft back into the water, he said.

The plane drifted in the river before it lodged along the shoreline downstream, he said. Someone saw it and called police, which led to an investigation of how the plane got there and who might have been onboard.

Later, as Valiquet headed back to his plane after his four-hour walk, he met an officer with the Illinois Conservation Police.

"He said, 'Well, you've caused quite a stir,''' Valiquet said. "They were extremely nice to me and I was very grateful that they found the plane."

The authorities thought he had been hiking, but did not rule out the possibility that he could have fallen into the river, according to Illinois Conservation Police Sgt. Phil Wire.

Because that type of aircraft does not require registration, authorities at first did not know who the pilot was. A fisherman saw Valiquet dock the boat and go into the Starved Rock Lodge for lunch. Because the safety glasses and headset were neatly sitting on the seat, and the engine was working properly, police did not suspect foul play, Wire said.

The ultraflight floatplane was built from a kit, and Valiquet said he added pontoons to it. It also has retractable wheels, making it amphibious, he said.

"I've flown to Starved Rock many times and I enjoy hiking there," he said, adding he never had any problems.

After thanking the emergency crews, the first thing Valiquet did was call his wife, he said.

"I didn't want her to hear it though the news," he said. "She heard it from me first."

He said the next time he flies to Starved Rock, he is going to carry a long rope to be sure to tie the plane to a tree, not just leave it on the beach, he said.


An officer checks an ultralight plane Wednesday afternoon on the north shore of the Illinois River near Starved Rock State Park.

What was thought at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to be a plane crash and river rescue became recovery of an undamaged and floating ultralight plane in the Illinois River and a man touring Starved Rock State Park.

At 4:45 p.m. authorities still were looking for the man and were waiting for him to return to the aircraft, tied back up where it was originally spotted at the Starved Rock State Park canoe rental, said Sgt. Phil Wire of Illinois Conservation Police.

The man is described as in his 50s with light hair and wearing a tan shirt and light pants, Wire said.

“He talked to a waitress at Starved Rock Lodge and talked about how he got there today,” Wire said. The man paid for a meal using a gift card without a name, he said.

The one-seat open cockpit plane, fitted with pontoons instead of landing wheels, is built of fabric with a metal frame. When the initial call went out about a crashed plane, dozens of rescuers converged on the river near the park and found the plane against the north shore, downstream of Plum Island and the canoe and boat launch.

Authorities believed the pilot beached the plane somewhere near the canoe launch, entered the park, and the plane later drifted away.

Officers tied the plane to a boat and towed it back to the park’s canoe launch as they mounted a river search for the pilot. By 2:10 p.m. searchers were advised by radio that the pilot had been seen at the canoe launch, in the park and up at the lodge, authorities said.


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