Report on Marengo plane crash that killed activist still incomplete

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

The wreckage of the plane, piloted by Rob Sherman, is removed from a Marengo-area farm field Dec. 10, to a nearby outbuilding.

The plane crash that took the life of social activist Rob Sherman is still an open investigation, as aviation authorities continue their attempts to reconstruct the cause of the accident through on-board data cards, the equivalent of a “black box.”

Marengo Fire and Rescue Department personnel were notified of the wreckage in a farm field outside the municipality Dec. 10, following a call to the dispatch center, and proceeded to the location to find no signs of life.

The McHenry County Coroner’s Office identified the remains as Sherman using dental records, and issued a press release two days later, pending the notification of family. The Zenair CH601 had evidently taken off from the Poplar Grove Airport at 6:12 p.m., Dec. 9, with the destination listed as the Schaumburg Airport. He had planned to a holiday party for an association of experimental airplane enthusiasts.

Rob Sherman

A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report indicated that Sherman was flying at night in violation of his pilot’s license that designated his status as “sports pilot,” which only carried a sports pilot designation. Those findings also indicated the plane crashed after “a loss of control.” Sherman had been involved with “building your own airplane” kits from the Missouri-based Zenith Plane Aircraft Company.

He was pronounced dead at the scene, at 7:53 a.m., approximately 25 minutes after the Marengo dispatch had responded. After removal of the body, the wreckage was taken to a nearby outbuilding for storage, due to a light snowfall and cold temperatures. The coroner’s office had stated the cause and manner of death was blunt force trauma injuries resulting from the plane crash.

“The toxicology reports showed no alcohol or drugs in the body, and there was no physical impairment contributing to the crash,” said McHenry County Coroner Dr. Anne Majewski. “The toxicology report was returned last Jan. 5, but we had to wait on the announcement until last fall, when the Federal Aviation Authority and the NTSB had reviewed the evidence.”

A preliminary report listed the cause of the crash as “a loss of control,” although both agencies continue to investigate the physical aspects of what went wrong with the plane, and attributing the cause to a pilot error or inability to control the aircraft because of a mechanical failure of the equipment.

The Zenair CH601 is the same aircraft involved in the crash of social activist Rob Sherman, last Dec. 9.

Marengo Police Chief Rich Solarz had said a passerby noticed the wreckage in the field, located at Meyer and Pleasant Grove roads, and contacted 911. Emergency rescue workers found no signs of life, and cordoned off the area ahead of other agencies arriving to the scene.

“The instrument panel of the aircraft was severely damaged, and makes it more difficult to reconstruct the crash itself, which is what investigators are trying to do,” said Majewski. “The data cards in the instrument panel will give them a better indication of what happened leading up to the crash. But the damage to the panel is delaying those findings.”

Sherman is best remembered for filing civil lawsuits against the city of Zion, and the village of Wauconda, for crosses that were placed atop municipal structures during the Christmas season, which transgressed the constitutional separation between church and state. He fought an attempt to have students pay for kindergarten classes in Batavia, citing the Illinois state constitution as guaranteeing a free public education.

Sherman also hosted a radio program, maintained a blog site, and later moved from Buffalo Grove, where he lost an election as village clerk, to Poplar Grove since the Boone County site was equipped with an airplane runway and eventually starting a company, Rob Sherman Airplanes.

He ran as a Green Party candidate in the 5th Congressional District, and had announced plans to run for the 12th district in the 2018 elections for the U.S. House of Representatives.

No timetable has been given for the final causality report to be issued.


Sherman plane crash report still incomplete–