OWLS HEAD, Maine — The three men who died Friday in a plane crash at Knox County Regional Airport were members of a University of Maine fraternity, and their deaths have left the school — and the Greek community — in mourning, said Robert Dana, UMaine’s vice president for student affairs.
“The University of Maine is reeling from the immense loss of three beloved members of this community,” he said Saturday night.
Lambda Chi Alpha president David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass; education officer Marcelo Rugini, 24, of Muliterno, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; and William “BJ” Hannigan, 24, of South Portland, an engineering graduate student and fraternity alumnus, reportedly died in the crash, according to UMaine officials.
UMaine officials cited reports from members of the fraternity in identifying the men. Police investigators, who are awaiting DNA confirmation, are not expected to officially release the names until Wednesday or Thursday of next week, he said.
“Friday night, the University of Maine community lost three outstanding young men,” University of Maine President Paul W. Ferguson said Saturday night in a prepared 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.”
The men made a big impression on those around them, so much so that it will be hard to fill the hole left in the wake of their deaths, Dana said.
“They will suffer through this for a long period of time,” he said of the fraternity’s members. “But, they will support each other and they have great support from their alumni” and the university.
UMaine officials started to put together a support structure within hours of the deadly crash, Dana said.
“Anytime a student dies, the whole community mobilizes,” he said.
Any student affected by this event who would like an opportunity to talk with someone can contact the UMaine Counseling Center, 581-1392, UMaine officials indicated. Faculty and staff with similar concerns can contact the Employee Assistance Program, 581-4014.
Fraternity members gathered at the Lambdas’ College Avenue house on Saturday night, which was protected by a UMaine police officer who kept media from approaching the building.
“They don’t want to talk to anybody right now,” Officer Deb Mitchell said. “They want us here all weekend.”
Neighboring fraternity houses quickly got word of the crash’s connection to UMaine, one member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity said.
“We found out this morning,” the SAE member said. “Obviously, they’re hurting and we’re here to support them.”
The word about what happened has spread “from brother to brother,” said Lambda fraternity brother Lucas Bernardi, a senior at UMaine, who also said that he was invited to go along on what turned out to be an ill-fated flight.
In a press release issued Saturday evening by the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, police identified the driver of the truck that collided with the plane as Stephen Turner, 62, of Camden. Turner was uninjured when the 1994 GMC Sonoma pickup truck he was driving on the runway collided with the Cessna 172 as the plane was about to take off.
“Turner is a licensed pilot that works out of the airport and was crossing the runway at that time,” the sheriff’s office wrote in the press release. “Turner had just assisted in putting a plane away in a hangar across from the terminal. This was routine practice that occurs daily.”
Turner did not return a message left Saturday evening on his answering machine.
Cheney and Rugini are listed on UMaine Parthenon, the university’s Greek life database.
“We still don’t know what happened,” said Bernardi, who described the three men as “the smartest guys I knew. They were the best.”
Hannigan recently had received his pilot’s license, Bernardi said, and had been offering for a while to take his friends out for fun on a flight over eastern Maine.
“It wasn’t the first time they had been flying,” he said.
The newly trained pilot, who had to complete at least 40 hours of flying to obtain his license, already had gone out on several flights since earning his wings, he said.
“They just went for a ride,” Bernardi said. “I was supposed to go with them, but I didn’t.”
Bernardi said the men had flown out of Bangor International Airport earlier in the day and then toward Lincoln County, where they flew over a farm that Bernardi and Rugini had worked at together this past summer. Bernardi said he and Rugini, an economics major, went to high school together in Brazil and have been studying sustainable agriculture at UMaine.
A message left Saturday afternoon with BIA officials was not returned.
Bernardi said he does not know who owned the plane or why it would have landed at the Owls Head airport. He said that Rugini sent a text to the Nobleboro farmer they had worked for that he was flying over the farm. He said it wasn’t much later when the plane crash occurred in Owls Head.
Bernardi said he had not spoken to any officials about the accident but that other friends of his have. He said he has helped gather some of Rugini’s personal belongings that he says investigators hope to use to match DNA from Rugini’s remains.
Bernardi said he and his fellow Lambda Chi Alpha members are “shocked” that three of their compatriots are gone.
“It’s three of the best guys we had in the fraternity,” Bernardi said. “I can’t believe it.”
BDN reporters Stephen Betts and Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.