OWLS HEAD, Maine (AP) — A small plane that spiraled downward and burst into flames after striking a pickup truck shortly before takeoff was carrying two University of Maine students and one alumnus, all of whom died in the crash, the school said Saturday.
The school and Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity said the victims of Friday night’s crash were 22-year-old David Cheney, of Beverly, Mass.; 24-year-old Marcelo Rugini, an exchange student from Brazil; and 24-year-old William “B.J.” Hannigan III, of South Portland.
All three were members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. Cheney was the fraternity’s president.
“UMaine’s Greek and international student communities are mourning the loss of three of their own, but they are not alone in their grief,” said Robert Dana, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “Losing these three young men — David, Marcelo and B.J. — is a loss for the entire UMaine community and the many people — including faculty and staff — whose lives they touched. They brought great light and energy to our campus, and we will miss them.”
The Cessna 172 was heading north on the Knox County Regional Airport runway early Friday night when it struck the truck, which was authorized to be on airport grounds, Knox County Chief Deputy Sheriff Tim Carroll said. The plane continued to climb and as it turned to the east, it dived about 200 to 300 yards into the thick woods and immediately burst into flames, the sheriff’s office said.
The university said DNA tests to confirm the identities aren’t expected until Wednesday.
One fraternity brother, senior Lucas Bernardi, told the Bangor Daily News that the three had flown out of Bangor International Airport earlier in the day and then toward Lincoln County over a farm where one of the victims had worked over the summer. He said one of the victims had just gotten his pilot’s license and wanted to take his friends for a fun ride.
“It wasn’t the first time they had been flying,” Bernardi told the newspaper. “I was supposed to go with them, but I didn’t.”
Hannigan, who graduated from the university in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, was piloting the plane and had been working on his flight hours, Dana said.
Cheney was a business major. Rugini, who lived in Nobleboro and was from Muliterno, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, was an economics major.
Lambda Chi Alpha has been in touch with the victims’ families and has been keeping the university informed, Dana said.
Fraternity members gathered in solidarity at their campus house Saturday night, and a police officer was stationed outside to keep away the media, the Bangor Daily News reported.
The pickup truck that was struck by the plane was allowed to be at the airport and was driven by a pilot who was picking up another pilot who had parked a plane in a hangar, Carroll said. The truck driver wasn’t hurt.
All trucks at the airport are equipped with radios to pick up any traffic from planes, airport manager Jeff Northgraves said. He said planes are required to radio their positions before, during and after takeoff. He said it wasn’t known yet whether the plane that crashed had radioed its actions.
The collision sent flames 10 to 20 feet in the air and smoke billowing into the sky. The first people to the scene tried unsuccessfully to pull one of the occupants from the burning wreckage, said John Newcomb, president of the Downeast Air airline services company, who was among those who tried to help.
The area is so rough that a helicopter will be needed to remove the four-seat plane, the same way the bodies were removed, Northgraves said.
Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board planned to begin investigating the crash Saturday.
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