CLEVELAND — A small rented airplane crashed and burned shortly after takeoff Monday in suburban Cleveland, killing all four college students aboard on the first day of classes.
A witness said he and others ran toward the plane hoping to help but it exploded as they approached.
The four men killed were students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and three of them were members of the varsity wrestling team, school officials said Tuesday.
The wrestlers were identified as 20-year-old Lucas Marcelli of Massillon, Ohio; 18-year-old Abraham Pishevar of Rockville, Maryland; and 18-year-old John Hill of St. Simons, Georgia. The fourth student was the 20-year-old pilot, William Felten of Saginaw, Michigan.
University officials said Felten and Marcelli were second-year students, while Hill and Pishevar were freshmen.
Marcelli graduated from Jackson High School in Massillon and twice qualified for Ohio’s state wrestling tournament.
Monday marked the first day of the fall semester at Case Western Reserve.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol said the plane had been rented by Felten for four hours. No flight plan was filed.
The plane crashed in Willoughby Hills shortly after taking off from the Cuyahoga County Regional Airport about 10 p.m. Monday. An explosion followed. The four men were trapped inside the wreckage.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the crash.
Case Western Reserve is making grief counselors available to students, and university President Barbara Snyder said in a statement that the school would be working closely with the four men’s roommates and friends.
“We are truly heartbroken about these promising lives cut short,” Snyder said.
Mark Gerald, 45, said he was sitting on his front porch when the plane went down. He said he could hear the plane struggling but didn’t see it until it crashed.
Gerald told the Northeast Ohio Media Group that the plane exploded as he and neighbors ran toward it to try to help.
“It was too hot,” he said. “The whole fuselage was involved.”
William Honaker, 18, said he was driving nearby when he saw a “ball of light” and realized it was a plane on fire.
Honaker said he also tried to approach the aircraft, but onlookers warned him to stop because the fire was too intense.
“(The plane) was so mangled,” Honaker said. “I didn’t want to look at it anymore, to be honest.”