A plane crash in Vermontville Twp. claimed the lives of Engineering student Jeffrey Chen and former University Mechanical Engineering Prof. Allen Ward yesterday afternoon.

Ward was piloting the plane, which held two other passengers — Chen and Roger Hertz, who is not affiliated with the University. The plane was headed from Ypsilanti to Billings, Montana.

According to a report from Eaton County Sheriff Rick Jones, all three occupants of the homemade plane died on impact. The press release states that the Eaton County Central Dispatch first received news of a plane crash at 2:02 p.m.

The crash was confirmed when the Grand Rapids Airport reported that it had lost contact with the four-passenger plane at about the same time yesterday afternoon.

The Federal Aviation Association reported that the plane was registered to Ward Synthesis Inc. — a company Ward started and headed upon leaving his position at the University in 1998, University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said.

“The company is not affiliated with the University since it is not registered under our name,” Peterson said. “At the time of his death, (Ward) was not associated with the University either,” she added.

Residents of the area — none of whom were injured — were the first to witness the crash and said the plane rolled upwards before diving to the ground.

Vermontville Twp. Resident Robert Matheson told the Associated Press that he was working in his barn when he witnessed the plane crash.

“I heard an engine race quite fast. When I looked out, I saw the plane trying to go up farther in the air. The next thing I know, it fell below the trees,” he said.

Chen, a 24-year-old recent graduate, was scheduled to receive both a Bachelors and Masters in Mechanical Engineering in May of 2004, according to Peterson. As a student, Chen was a member and chief engineer of the 2003 University of Michigan Solar Car Team.

Fellow teammate and engineering student, Nicholas Schoeps was surprised to learn of Chen’s death.

“He was a pretty good friend of mine, always willing to give up time for you,” Schoeps said.

“Jeff was really what you look for in a leader in terms of motivation,” he added.

The crash is currently under investigation by the Eaton County Sheriff Department and the FAA. The plane was made from a Lancair Aircraft kit.

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