Updated: Sunday, 17 Jan 2010, 9:59 PM EST
Published : Sunday, 17 Jan 2010, 1:23 PM EST
MANLIUS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - Two Hope College students died in a plane crash shortly after the plane took off from the Tulip City Airport in Holland on Sunday.
The pilot of the plane, 23-year-old David Otai, and his passenger, Emma Biagioni, 20, were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash that happened in a field between 58th and 60th streets and 134th and 136th avenues.
The plane took off from the airport late Sunday morning. Investigators began searching for the downed wreckage after an automated distress call was detected and communication was lost with the aircraft. The Hamilton fire chief said investigators don't know what caused the distress call.
Federal records show Otai has a commercial pilot's license.
He rented the 1979 model of the Cessna Skyhawk 172 from the airport, said Ron Ludema, a manager at Tulip City. The plane is inspected for safety after every 100 hours of flight and it was in good working order, he added.
"It's tough," Ludema said. "You get to know people a little bit and even though it's a business kind of a relationship, it's really tragic to have to hear these kind of things."
Otai had flown the plane several times since becoming a client about three months ago, Ludema said.
Hope College has altered the regularly scheduled "gathering" service at the Dimnent Chapel, 277 College Ave., to provide time for students to pray.
Otai is a sophomore from Kenya who first came to the United States as an exchange student and was continuing his education at Hope. Biagioni is a junior political science major from St. Charles, Ill., according to a college news release.
She was on the staff at The Anchor, Hope College's student newspaper and was on the orientation committee.
Otai was a captain on his Hope College intramural soccer team, according to the Hope College Web site.
The crash remains under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration. The sheriff's department has not confirmed the victim's names, but Hope College sent out a release identifying the students.