NTSB: Pilot in Ohio plane crash that killed 4 college students was trying to turn back

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CLEVELAND — The pilot of a small plane told a ground controller that he was not climbing fast enough and asked for permission to turn around just before his rented aircraft plummeted to the ground last week, killing all four college students aboard, a National Transportation Safety Board report said.

The controller said it appeared the pilot was trying to turn left when the plane struck the ground and smashed through a fence, according to the preliminary report. The report also said the 20-year-old pilot, William Felten, headed for the wrong runway at one point before takeoff.

Killed in the Aug. 25 crash were Felten, of Saginaw, Michigan, and his three passengers: Lucas Marcelli, 20, of Massillon, Ohio; Abraham Pishevar, 18, of Rockville, Maryland; and John Hill, 18, of St. Simons, Georgia. The four men planned a nighttime sightseeing trip after their first day of classes at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Marcelli, Pishevar and Hill belonged to the school's wrestling team. Felten and Marcelli were second-year students. Hill and Pishevar were freshmen.

The NTSB report does not indicate what might have caused the crash but lists details of what occurred before and after. The NTSB investigation could take a year or more to complete. A NTSB spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday.

According to the report released Friday:

The plane was rented online from a local flying club for four hours starting at 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 25. None of the club's employees were at the airport when the men arrived at Cuyahoga County Airport in the Cleveland suburb of Richmond Heights.

Witnesses said they saw the four men approach the plane, a single-engine Cessna 172R, around 9 p.m. and that one of the men had a small suitcase. One witness said the plane sat with the engine running for about 30 minutes with the men on board.

At around 9:45 p.m., Felten asked the ground controller for clearance to take off. About four minutes later, the controller informed Felten he was taxiing to the wrong runway. Felten apologized and the controller directed him to the approach end of the correct runway.

Felten radioed the controller two minutes after starting takeoff that "they were not climbing fast and they wanted to immediately make a left turn to turn around." The plane became airborne about 2,000 feet down the 5,100-foot runway, the controller said.

The plane crashed in nearby Willoughby Hills at 9:48 p.m. Residents reported hearing an explosion as they raced toward the crash site and that the fuselage quickly caught fire, trapping the men inside.

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