Witnesses near the crash say they thought they heard a series of loud fireworks. Others reported seeing the plane engulfed in flames.
The plane that crashed Monday night near the Cuyahoga County Airport was having trouble ascending and was attempting to turn back to land when it crashed, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.
A 1999 Cessna Model 172R, which crashed shortly after takeoff, had been rented for four hours and no flight plan was filed.
The NTSB says it will look at whether weight was an issue but said the plane did have four seats.
"From what we're told, he started a left turn and that's when he crashed," an official with the NTSB said during an impromptu press conference at the crash site in Willoughby Hills.
"Primarily, what we're going to be doing is examining the wreckage as best we can where it's at and then we'll go ahead and move it to a secured hangar where we can do some more detailed work on it."
Despite being properly licensed, there is little information known about the pilot's flight experience.
The four men killed in the crash were students at Case Western Reserve University.
Pilot: William Michael Felten, 20, of Saginaw, Mich.
- Lucas Vincent Marcelli, 20, of Jackson Township.
- Abraham Pishevar, 18, of Rockville, Md.
- John Hill, 18, of St. Simons, Ga.
Marcelli, Pishevar and Hill were all members of CWRU's wrestling squad, according to head coach Mark Hawald.
According to Laurence Bolotin, national director of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, Felten and Marcelli were members of the fraternity at CWRU.
In fact, the fraternity's last Twitter post, from April, was a retweet of @CWRUGreekLife congratulating Marcelli on receiving an athletic award.
WKYC Channel 3 financial analyst Kevin Myeroff is 20-year veteran pilot. He also has a 20-year-old son who is a new pilot and he sends his condolences to the families of the four young men killed in the Monday night plane crash near Cuyahoga County Airport. Myeroff guesses that excessive weight may have been a factor in the crash.
The single-engine Cessna Model 172-R does have four seats but Myeroff says "That plane's generally not made to take four people unless you are adjust for fuel." He says that plane model is widely regarded as among the safest in its class. Myeroff has taken lessons from and flown planes owned by the T & G Flying Club.
Pilot William Felten rented the plane from T & G Monday night.
T & G Flying Club owner Laurence Rohl released the following statement:
"On behalf of everyone in the T&G Flying Club family, I want to extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the four young men who were lost in this tragedy. William Felten was a pilot who brought joy to our flight school and he will be sincerely missed. At T&G, we pride ourselves on our dedication to safety, and I am truly heartbroken over this accident. We are working hard with authorities to find out what caused this terrible tragedy and our prayers are with their families.
We will be holding a candlelight memorial for those in the T&G Flying Club community to mourn the loss of these young men, which will be open to the public. Details will be coming soon."
Myeroff says, "From what I've seen, and my experience, they've done a good job of taking care of their planes."
The plane was reported to be stalling or sputtering after take-off.
Myeroff wondered about the ability of a less-experienced pilot to react .
"If a plane is stalling, and you lose the ability to fly, you do the opposite of what comes naturally. You push toward the ground. Most people push up," Myeroff said.
Myeroff stressed that his opinions are all guesswork and the final determination of what cause the crash will come from the NTSB.
Investigator: Cuyhoga County Airport safety questions
The crash that killed four young men isn't the first deadly plane crash at the Cuyahoga County Airport. And it comes at a time when the county is planning major improvements there.
According to the master plan, the airport's RSA's (runway safety areas) do not meet current FAA standards. Those areas, according to the county, enhance the safety of aircraft that undershoot, overrun, or veer off the runway, and provide greater accessibility for fire fighting and rescue efforts.
Now, the runway is too short and in need of repair. With the help of millions of federal dollars, the county plans to extend the runway 500 feet and replace or re-surface it. In addition, the plan calls for upgrades to lighting, pavement markings and signage described as confusing.
Monday night's crash wasn't the first deadly accident at the airport. In 2009, a pilot and one passenger were killed in a crash shortly after take-off. In 2004, an experienced pilot, flying a Cessna 310, was killed when he crashed, also soon after take-off.
According to National Transportation Safety records, a total of 6 accidents at the airport since 2000. The FAA reports 15 incidents in the same time period. All were minor except for one.
The students killed were flying in a Cessna 172. It's not only a very popular aircraft, it has an excellent safety record.
Follow The Investigator Tom Meyer on Twitter: @TomMeyerWKYC
Here is what the NTSB posted on its website:
On August 25, 2014, at 2158 EDT, a Cessna 172R airplane, N4207P, collided with the terrain in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, following a loss of control shortly after takeoff from the Cuyahoga County Airport (CGF). The private pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was substantially damaged by impact and a post-impact fire. The airplane was registered to a private individual and operated by T & G Flying Club, Inc.
The pilot rented the airplane and was flying it on a personal flight under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight which was not operating on a flight plan. The flight was originating at the time of the accident.
The pilot reserved the airplane from T&G Flying Club, at 2022 using an online reservation system. He reserved the airplane for 4 hours, beginning at 2030. The employees of the flying club had left for the evening by time the pilot and passengers arrived.
Two witnesses, stated that shortly after 2100, they saw 4 males walk across the ramp toward the tie-down area near hangar 7. One of the males had a carry-on type suitcase. The pilot and passengers then boarded a Cessna 172. One of the witnesses stated the airplane stayed on the ramp for about 30 minutes with the engine running. They did not see the airplane after this time.
At 2146, the pilot called ground control for a takeoff taxi clearance stating he was on the ramp south of the T&G Flight Club. The controller issued the pilot a clearance to taxi to runway 6 via the Alpha 7 taxiway to the Alpha taxiway. The controller also issued the wind condition as 140 degrees at 8 knots along with the altimeter setting. The pilot stated his radio was a little "fuzzy" and he asked the controller to repeat the clearance. The controller repeated the taxi clearance, which the pilot subsequently repeated. About 4 minutes later, the controller informed the pilot that he is taxiing to the wrong runway. After asking the controller to repeat what he said, the pilot stated "Thank you I'm sorry." The controller then issued taxi instructions back to the approach end of runway 6.
At 2156, the pilot radioed that he was ready to takeoff on runway 6. The controller asked the pilot what his direction of flight was going to be. The pilot responded that they were going to fly east to sightsee and that they would be back in a little while. The controller issued the takeoff clearance with a right turn after takeoff.
At 2158, the pilot radioed that they were not climbing fast and they wanted to immediately make a left turn to turn around. The controller approved the left turn. The controller stated it appeared the airplane began a left turn when it descended to the ground. The controller reported that, during the takeoff, the airplane became airborne about 100 feet past taxiway Alpha 6, which was approximately 2,000 feet down the runway.
The airplane impacted the ground, a chain link fence, a guy wire, and a telephone pole prior to coming to rest about 1,000 feet on a bearing of 20 degrees from the departure end of runway 6. This location is just north of the intersection of Bishop Road and Curtiss Wright Parkway.
The wreckage path was along a 210 degree heading. The left wing tip, including the position light, was embedded in the ground at the first impact mark. This mark was east of the chain link fence. The airplane then traveled through the fence, with the left wing contacting one of the fence posts. The main impact crater was in the west side of the fence.
Adjacent to the crater were two slash marks in the soft ground. Both marks were about 12 inches long. One of the slash marks was about 7 inches deep and the other was about 4 inches deep. The airplane came to rest on a heading of about 160 degrees with the left wing against the telephone pole. A post-impact fire ensued.