A Northeastern University graduate was among three people killed in a plane crash in northeastern Australia while surveying wildfires, officials said.
After graduating in May, William Jennings, 22, went to Australia last month to join an aerial firefighting team and was supposed to return to Boston in a few weeks, his mother, Denise Jennings, said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Two coworkers were also gathering data from the plane when it crashed. Officials have not released their names.
William Jennings, who grew up in New York, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
While at Northeastern, he completed an internship in which he helped work on a thermal imaging camera used to map the wildfires. When the person who was using the camera to survey the Australian wildfires needed a break, Jennings went to relieve him, his parents said.
“He was so excited to go to be able to use the camera that he had worked on, and to be in Australia, doing something to help the Australian people,” his mother said.
Shortly before 9 p.m. on Friday, Jennings texted his father, Joseph Jennings, that he was flying to another base. About 15 minutes later, he saw on Find My iPhone that his phone was off the grid.
He didn’t think much of it until he woke up the next morning and his son’s phone was still in the same location.
“I just had a bad feeling that something had happened,” his father said. He paced around his home in New York, repeatedly calling and texting his son. A short time later, police knocked on the door with the news that their only child was dead.
Jennings will be remembered as a loving, adventurous, and intelligent young man who had a “zest for life” and “treated everyone as equals,” his parents said.
“He could light up any room that he walked into,” his mother said. “He made friends so easily. He was so kind.”
“He was the joy of our lives,” she said.
Jennings loved playing the saxophone and once performed at Carnegie Hall. He loved hiking and often chronicled his adventures on Instagram, his parents said.
“There’s people that could live a whole lifetime and they don’t get half of the experience Will got in 23 years,” his father said.
He loved living in Boston and was hoping to find a full-time job here when he got back from Australia.
Amid their grief, the Jennings said they have been comforted by loved ones as well as their son’s high school friends who came home from college to be with them or sent pictures and videos.
“We can’t eat. We can’t sleep,” his mother said. “The outpouring of support and love has been tremendous and giving us a lot of comfort, constantly having people here and sharing stories, memories, pictures, and videos.”
While he was in Australia, Jennings told his mother that one day “I can tell my children that their dad was a badass because I was in Australia helping fight the wildfire.”
“Now well, we’ll never have grandchildren,” she said.
The Jennings said the plane crashed in a remote area with “very difficult terrain.”
In a statement, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said the type of aircraft that crashed is grounded until cleared by authorities. An investigation into what caused the crash is underway.
”Side by side we have been fighting these bushfires as one and their loss is felt by all. Our thoughts and prayers are with their family, friends and those who worked alongside them, including our Air Operations personnel,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services wrote on Saturday.
A GoFundMe has been created to raise money so his remains can be brought back to the United States — a lengthy and expensive task, his parents said.
“I’m just desperate to have him back so that we can say goodbye,” his mother said.