November 18, 2012

Two UMaine students, alumnus died in Owls Head plane crash

Friday’s fiery accident in Owls Head killed three members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, including the young pilot from South Portland.

By Edward D. Murphy
Staff Writer

and Beth Quimby
Staff Writer

OWLS HEAD — Two University of Maine students and a 2011 graduate died in Friday’s fiery plane crash at the Knox County Regional Airport, university officials confirmed Saturday night.

The university said William “B.J.” Hannigan III, 24, of South Portland; David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass.; and Marcelo Rugini, a foreign exchange student from Brazil who was living in Nobleboro, died after the Cessna 172 they were in collided with a pickup truck on the main runway at the airport.

After the collision, the plane climbed briefly, veered to the left and then crashed into a wooded area near the runway. The plane then burst into flames and burned so badly that as of Saturday, authorities were still unable to determine its tail number.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office said the pickup was driven by Stephen Turner, 62, of Camden. Turner, who was not hurt in the collision, was driving across the runway in what authorities said was a common practice at the airport, which has no tower to control the movement of planes and vehicles.

Authorities had said earlier Saturday that they had the names of the three men they believed had been killed in the crash, but would not be able to confirm the identities until DNA testing is completed later this week.

The university put out its statement Saturday night, based on reports from members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. All three were members of the fraternity, and Cheney was its president.

Robert Dana, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said Hannigan was the pilot of the plane. He graduated from the university in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
Cheney was a business major, and Rugini, who was from Muliterno, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, was an economics major.

The university said counselors will be available for students, and faculty and staff members who were having trouble dealing with the tragedy could get help through an employee assistance program.

Dana said the university will determine whether there will be a memorial on campus after the Thanksgiving break and after conferring with members of the victims’ families and fraternity members.

The Bangor Daily News reported that Lucas Bernardi, another member of the fraternity, said the group had planned to go sightseeing over eastern Maine on the flight. He said he was supposed to join the three, but did not go.

Bernardi said he didn’t know why the plane had landed at Owls Head.

A recording said the phone number to the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house was out of order and a campus security officer said an officer was stationed in front of the frat house Saturday night because members of the fraternity did not want to speak to the media immediately.

According to the sheriff’s office, Turner, who is a pilot who works at the airport, was driving across the runway after helping to put a plane in a hangar shortly before 5 p.m. Friday. The sheriff’s office said it was common practice for people at the airport to cross runways in vehicles.

A message left at Turner’s house was not returned Saturday.

Jeff Northgraves, the airport manager, agreed it’s a regular occurrence at the airport. He said the airport requires that people who will be driving on runways and taxiways receive training and have radios to hear communications from planes in the vehicles they are using.

Northgraves said he knew the driver of the pickup had been trained and the Sonoma pickup had a radio.

It appears that the driver had his radio tuned to the airport frequency, as required by airport procedures, Northgraves said. Although the pilot of the airplane was heard on the radio at one point, it was not clear Saturday if he ever announced that he was taking off.

(Continued on page 2)

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