CLEVELAND (AP) — A small rented airplane crashed and burned shortly after takeoff Monday, killing four college students who were taking a sightseeing flight around Cleveland after their first day of classes.
Investigators look at the wreckage of a plane resting on the side of a road, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, in Richmond Heights, Ohio. The Cessna 172R crashed and burst into flames just after takeoff Monday from Cuyahoga County Airport in Richmond Heights, Ohio, outside of Cleveland, killing all four people on board, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
The four men were students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Three were members of the varsity wrestling team.
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 pilot, 20-year-old William Felten of Saginaw, Michigan.
Marcelli and Felten were sophomores and Pishevar and Hill were freshman.
The plane appeared to be trying to return to the airport when it crashed, said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. He said investigators expect to file a preliminary report next week, but the full investigation could take a year to complete.
Bryan Marcelli of Massillon in northeastern Ohio said his son Lucas and the three other students planned to go up, take a look around and come right back to the same airport. He said Lucas was a hard-working student but not a risk taker.
"If he wasn't my son, I'd want my son to be around him, because he was such a positive influence," Marcelli said. "I don't know anybody that doesn't like him."
Lucas Marcelli graduated from Jackson High School in Massillon and twice qualified for Ohio's state wrestling tournament.
Abraham "Abe" Pishevar recently graduated from Georgetown Prep in North Bethesda, Maryland. High school classmate Cam Giarraputo said Pishevar never boasted about his wrestling accomplishments.
"He was always modest, never a show-off," Giarraputo said.
Case Western Reserve is one of the world's top research universities. The campus sprawls across a large portion of Cleveland's University Circle neighborhood in a mix of stately stone and brick buildings and distinctive modern structures. Students on campus gathered Tuesday afternoon in Veale Center, one of the school's athletic facilities, to talk and to console each other.
The university's wrestling coach, Mark Hawald, said no coach is ever prepared to deal with the sudden death of young athletes.
"We're just coping and mourning and figuring how we can move on from losing three of our teammates, three of our brothers, three of our family," Hawald said.
Case Western Reserve will work closely with the men's roommates and friends, university President Barbara Snyder said in a statement.
There are no indications why the single-engine Cessna 172R crashed so soon after takeoff Monday night from Cuyahoga County Regional Airport in suburban Richmond Heights. The plane crashed in nearby Willoughby Hills.
An Ohio State Highway Patrol official said the plane had been rented by Felten for four hours and that he did not file a flight plan.
Residents who live near the airport rushed to the crash site and found the plane engulfed in flames. Mark Gerald, 45, told Northeast Ohio Media Group that he was sitting on his front porch and could hear a plane engine struggling. He said the plane exploded as he and neighbors ran toward it. The four men were trapped inside the wreckage.
"It was too hot," he said. "The whole fuselage was involved."
William Honaker, 18, said he was driving in the area when he saw a "ball of light" and realized a plane was on fire.
Honaker said he also tried to approach the aircraft, but onlookers warned him to stop.
"(The plane) was so mangled," Honaker said. "I didn't want to look at it anymore, to be honest."
Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Jennifer Smola contributed to this report.