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WILLOUGHBY HILLS, Ohio — Four college students died Monday after the plane in which they were riding crashed shortly after takeoff from Cuyahoga County Airport, bursting into flames after it hit the ground in suburban Cleveland.

At least three of the men — Pilot William Felten, 20, of Saginaw, Mich.; John Hill, 18, of St. Simons, Ga.; and Lucas Marcelli, 20, of Massillon, Ohio — were students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol. Passenger Abraham Pishevar, 18, of Rockville, Md., also may have been a Case student, but his family has not confirmed that detail.

University officials said Tuesday they believe that all four were students there.

"We have notified the parents of the young people involved, and representatives from University Counseling Services are working closely with their roommates and close friends," university President Barbara Snyder said in a statement.

Felton and Marcelli were members of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Case, said Laurence Bolotin, the fraternity's national director.

Marcelli, who was to begin his second year at Case, was a member of the university's wrestling team and won the Athletic Department's top male rookie of the year award in the spring.

The 1999, four-seat Cessna 172R, which crashed just outside the airport at 10 p.m. had been rented for four hours and no flight plan was filed, highway patrol officials said.

The four students planned to take a quick flight to see Cleveland by night and return to the same airport, said Bryan Marcelli, Luke Marcelli's father.

Mark Gerald, 45, was sitting on his front porch when the plane went down. He said he could hear the plane struggling but didn't see it until it crashed.

It exploded as he and neighbors ran toward it to try to help.

"We thought we had (a chance to help them). It was too hot," he said. "The whole fuselage was involved."

The men were trapped inside and died at the scene.

William Honaker, 18, said he was driving nearby when he saw a "ball of light" and realized it was a plane on fire.

Honaker said he also tried to approach the aircraft, but onlookers warned him away because of the fire's intensity.

"(The plane) was so mangled," Honaker said.

Cuyahoga County Airport Robert D. Shea Field, 11 miles east of downtown Cleveland in Richmond Heights, Ohio, primarily has private and business flights but also offers small plane rental and charters and has high-intensity lighting for night flying, according to its website.

Felten rented the plane, owned by Laurence Rohl of Willoughby, Ohio, from T&J Flying Club at the airport.

National Transportation Safety Board officials, who arrived to investigate the crash at midday Tuesday, said Felten obtained his pilot's license about a year ago.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Lucas "Luke" Marcelli, 20, of Massillon, Ohio, was a member of Case Western Reserve University's wrestling team and received the athletic department's Bill Sudeck Rookie of the Year award in the spring. (Photo: Case Western Reserve University)

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