The three University of Maine fraternity brothers who were killed Friday in a fiery plane crash at Knox County Regional Airport were remembered Sunday as bright, well-liked and hard-working young men with promising futures.
University officials identified the crash victims as 24-year-old William “B.J.” Hannigan III of Portland, 22-year-old David Cheney of Beverly, Mass., and 24-year-old Marcelo Rugini, a foreign exchange student from Brazil.
All three were members of the University of Maine chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha, a fraternity with a house on College Avenue in Orono, said Robert Dana, the university’s vice president for student affairs.
“Losing these three young men is a loss for the entire UMaine community and the many people, including faculty and staff, whose lives they touched. They brought great light and energy to our campus and we will miss them,” Dana said in a written statement.
Dana said a campuswide memorial service for the crash victims is being planned for the week of Nov. 25, after students return from their Thanksgiving holiday break.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and by the Federal Aviation Administration.
A preliminary report on the crash will be posted in 10 business days at www.ntsb.gov. It can take up to a year for investigators to determine a cause.
In a news release issued this weekend, the FAA said the single-engine Cessna 172 aircraft crashed on departure from the regional airport in Owls Head around 4:40 p.m.
The plane hit a pickup truck that was crossing the runway, went airborne and crashed into woods to the left of the runway. Hannigan was piloting the plane.
He was described by family and friends Sunday as a natural leader who was about to leave for flight school to become a pilot in the Air Force.
Hannigan, known to his family as B.J. and his friends as Will, was on active duty with the 101st Air Refueling Wing in Bangor.
A native of Portland, he was a 2006 graduate of Cheverus High School, where he was the football team captain.
Hannigan graduated from the University of Maine in 2011 with a degree in civil engineering. He was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity during his years in Orono.
“He had a lot of energy,” said his father, William Hannigan of Portland.
The father said his son fell in love with flying during a surprise birthday flight in a World War II fighter plane over Lake Champlain in Vermont.
“That might have been what did it,” William Hannigan said.
Will Hannigan also played ice hockey both in high school and with the National Guard. He spent several months last year in Qatar with the National Guard.
His family said people sought out Hannigan’s company.
“When he came by, we couldn’t wait to come over and see what was new with him,” said Joe Hannigan of Portland, Will’s uncle.
Will Hannigan’s mother is Carolyn Dorr of Windham. He is also survived by his younger sister, Alyx Hannigan, and a stepbrother, Justin Hayden.
Lucas Bernardi, another foreign exchange student from Brazil, came to Maine with Rugini six years ago as part of a program called Communities for Agriculture.
When they weren’t at college, the two Brazilian friends lived and worked at Robert Spear’s vegetable farm in Nobleboro. Spear is Maine’s former commissioner of agriculture.
Bernardi, a senior at the University of Maine, had been invited to go on Friday’s flight, but for some reason — he could not explain why — chose not to go.
He said Hannigan flew out of Bangor International Airport and took his friends to Nobleboro, where they circled Spears’ farm several times before leaving for the Knox regional airport, about 25 miles away.
“Marcel texted my son and said they were going to be flying over the farm on Friday,” Spear recalled Sunday. “He said they wanted to see it from a different perspective.
“They circled around several times and we waved to them,” Spear said.
He said he regarded Rugini as his “adopted son.” He was attending the University of Maine on a full scholarship and was majoring in sustainable agriculture.
Spear had hoped that Rugini would work for him full time on the farm after he graduated next spring. “I looked at him as the future of our farm. Marcel was a natural at farming,” Spear said.
He arranged to host a gathering of farm hands and friends in Nobleboro on Sunday night. It gave them a chance to comfort one another over their loss. “Marcel had such a bright future. He was an outstanding person who meant the world to us,” Spear said.
David Cheney, whose family is from Beverly, Mass., was president of the Lambda Chi fraternity. He was majoring in business. Cheney attended Hannigan’s college graduation and family party.
“He was a really great kid, a funny person who was always joking around,” said a childhood friend, Allison O’Brien of Beverly.
The driver of the pickup truck involved in the crash, Stephen Turner, 62, of Camden, was not hurt and has not been charged.
Knox airport manager Jeff Northgraves said drivers there are allowed to cross runways as long as they have training from airport officials and a vehicle that’s equipped with a radio.
Turner is a local pilot who has been trained and had a radio in the truck, Northgraves said.
Knox’s regional airport does not have a control tower or anyone monitoring aircraft or vehicle traffic, he said.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: