Phillip Pines, a former Great Dane Trailers executive, put his plane down in a field to avoid a residential area, authorities say.
A Highland Park pilot who died in a crash Monday night may have made a last-minute decision that saved lives, authorities said Tuesday.
Phillip Pines, 76, was flying from Central Wisconsin Airport, in Mosinee, Wis., to Waukegan when his plane, a Socata TBM 700 turbo-prop, had problems maintaining altitude.
He was trying to make an emergency landing at the Batten International Airport in Racine, but crashed in a field adjacent to a residential area about 2.5 miles southwest of the airport.
An official called the act "heroic."
"If he would have crashed into a residential area, the impact could have been more catastrophic," said John Brannen, senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, according to Racine's Journal Times.
Residents nearby rushed to the crash site to offer aid.
"[They were] up there banging on the plane trying to open the glass, break open the windows. He was breathing, but... no," witness Melissa Alt told Milwaukee NBC station WTMJ.
Pines, the former Chief Operating Officer for Great Dane Trailers, was killed in the crash. He was the only occupant aboard the aircraft that was split in two by the impact.
"He left an indelible mark on our company, successfully ingraining into the organization a culture of strength and excellence," said William Crown, president and chief executive officer of Great Dane Limited Partnership,in a written statement. "I speak for our board of directors and employees in saying we are deeply saddened by his passing."
The NTSB continues to investigate a cause of the mechanical malfunction.