The family of a Beverly man who was one of three University of Maine fraternity members killed in a small plane crash in Owls Head, Maine, on Friday afternoon remembered him as “a funny, loving, and kind young man.”
David Cheney, 22, was president of the university’s Lambda Chi Alpha chapter and a business major.
Economics major Marcelo Rugini, 24, an international student from Muliterno in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, and 2011 University of Maine alumnus William “B.J.” Hannigan III, 24, of South Portland, Maine, were also killed.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, said Keith Holloway, a public affairs officer for the federal office.
“We will look at aircraft communications and so forth,” Holloway said. “We have made no determinations.”
In an e-mailed statement, Cheney’s family members said he “was loved by everyone who knew him.”
“His smile and baby blue eyes would light up [an] entire room,” the statement read. “He will be greatly missed. We appreciate all of the support from our family, friends, and community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the other two families who are also [affected] by this tragic event.”
A woman who answered the phone at Cheney’s Beverly home identified herself as his sister and said the family was not ready to speak to the public.
“It’s too new,” she said.
The three were taking off in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, a four-seat single-engine plane, when the plane hit a 1994 GMC Sonoma pickup truck on the Knox County Regional Airport runway, according to a Knox County Sheriff’s Office statement. The plane rose, then spiraled into nearby woods and burst into flames.
The truck driver, a licensed pilot who had just helped crews put a plane away in a hanger, was not injured, Chief Deputy Tim Carroll of the sheriff’s office said.
Carroll said he would not say who was piloting the plane until DNA results confirmed the pilot’s identity.
Other fatal plane crashes have occurred at the airport; the most devastating killed 17 people in May 1979. A commercial flight from Boston landed in heavy fog, and the pilot hit the tops of some trees, then hit a ledge in the nearby pine forest and crashed. One passenger, a 16-year-old boy, survived.
But conditions were much better Friday afternoon, airport manager Jeff Northgraves said.
“Winds were out of the north at 3 to 5 knots [3.5 to 5.7 miles per hour], visibility was greater than 10 miles, the sky condition was clear,” he said.
Firefighters carried extinguishers into the woods, where their trucks could not reach.
“It was in a wooded area, and not only wooded, but there was a gully between any hard surface access and the site,” said Northgraves, who estimated the plane crashed about 200 yards from the runway.
According to the sheriff’s statement, Cheney, Rugini, and Hannigan were pronounced dead at the scene.
University of Maine administrators expressed their condolences.
“Friday night, the University of Maine community lost three outstanding young men,” university president Paul W. Ferguson said in the statement. “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.”
Dr. Robert Dana, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said in the statement that the loss will be felt by the entire university community.
“UMaine’s Greek and international student communities are mourning the loss of three of their own, but they are not alone in their grief,” he wrote. “[The three men killed] brought great light and energy to our campus, and we will miss them.”