(Cleveland) - A National Transportation Safety Board spokesman says the pilot of a small plane that crashed in suburban Cleveland on Monday night radioed the tower after takeoff that he was having problems climbing and would be returning to the airport.

The pilot and three passengers were killed. All were students at Case Western Reserve University. They planned to take a short sightseeing flight after their first day of classes when the plane crashed near Cuyahoga County Regional Airport in Willoughby Hills.

Paul Mickley is a Beachwood dentist and pilot who has frequented the same flight club and has flown the same type of plane as the Case students.

Mickley tells Newsradio WTAM 1100 that model aircraft is very safe. He contends this type of crash is often caused by a variety of factors, and is usually centered around pilot error.

The craft is being stored in an airport hangar as the NTSB completes its on-scene investigation. A preliminary report should be ready within 10 days, the NTSB spokesman said.

A man who lives near the airport said he heard a plane engine sputtering before the crash.

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(Photos by Ken Robinson/WTAM)