OWLS HEAD, Maine – A small plane that spiraled downward and burst into flames after striking a pickup truck shortly after takeoff was carrying two University of Maine students and one alumnus, 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.
"Friday night, the University of Maine community lost three outstanding young men," says University of Maine President Paul W. Ferguson. "In their leadership and involvement in the UMaine community, they touched the lives of students, faculty and staff. At this difficult time, our thoughts are with their families and friends, near and far."
The Cessna 172 was heading north on the Knox County Regional Airport runway early Friday evening 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 spiraled downward 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.
"UMaine's Greek and international student communities are mourning the loss of three of their own, but they are not alone in their grief," says 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. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends."
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.
The fraternity has been in touch with the victims' families and has been keeping the university informed, Dana said.
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.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and officials from the National Transportation Safety Board planned to begin investigating the crash Saturday.