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Professor on CCU student killed in plane crash: ‘Tragic... there’s no other word’

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 6:05 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2021 at 11:26 PM EDT
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CONWAY, S.C. (WMBF/AP) – One Coastal Carolina University professor is remembering one of the best students he said he’s ever had after she was killed in a small plane crash while sightseeing in Alaska.

Alaska State Troopers identified the pilot and five passengers over the weekend who were on board the small plane that went down on Thursday.

The five passengers had been on a Holland American Line cruise ship, and they were on a sightseeing excursion. The pilot was returning the passengers to Ketchikan from Misty Fjords National Monument when the small plane crashed, according to the Associated Press.

CCU student, 20-year-old Rachel McArthur, was onboard along with her mother Andrea, according to tropoers.

The university confirmed on Tuesday that Rachel was a junior and majoring in Intelligence and National Security Studies, which is a highly competitive program that prepares students for careers in high-powered government agencies, including the FBI, the NSA and the CIA.

“Coastal Carolina University President Michael Benson, the Board of Trustees, and university leaders express our deepest condolences to Rachel’s family and friends,” the university said in a statement.

Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis was one of Rachel’s professors during her time at CCU. He said that Rachel, also known as “Rae,” excelled both inside and outside of the classroom. Fitsanakis said that to this day, Rachel is the only freshman to receive the prestigious Intelligence Award by the program’s flagship pre-professional initiative, The Chanticleer Intelligence Brief.

Fitsanakis added that she was also a published author in the area of immigration and security and was an active member of Women and Intelligence and National Security (WINS).

“Rae’s absence will leave a huge hole in what we do here in the intelligence program at CCU, both in terms of her academic presence -- which was remarkable -- but also her personality and charisma,” Fitsanakis said in a statement. “She was a role model for many of her fellow students, and the kind of person that gives meaning to what we, as professors at CCU, do, day in and day out.”

Fitsanakis told WMBF News he first met Rachel when she was a freshman, which was unusual because he typically doesn’t meet students until at least their sophomore year when they get into their major classes.

Fitsanakis said Rachel went out of her way to make sure she got the chance to meet her future professors for her major before even starting their classes.

“That was typical of Rae,” Fitsanakis said. “She was one of those students that made her presence felt immediately as soon as she walked into the program.”

Fitsanakis said he is still in disbelief about her death, and he said it probably won’t fully hit him until he starts teaching classes again this upcoming semester.

“The word is tragic,” he said. “There’s no other word you can think of for something like this.”

He added that her dreams will help to motivate other students in the Intelligence and National Security Studies program.

“Rae came to us in pursuit of her dream to work for the United States government and help make this country safer for everyone. We will continue to work toward that goal, driven by admiration and respect for Rae’s unique legacy. May she rest in peace, and may the surviving members of her family find comfort in the knowledge that she touched us all in a unique way while she was with us. We will not forget her,” Fitsanakis said.

The other passengers who died were Mark Henderson, 69, and Jacquelyn Komplin, 60, both of Napa, California, and Janet Kroll, 77, from Mount Prospect, Illinois. The pilot was identified as Rolf Lanzendorfer, 64, of Cle Elum, Washington.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the cause of the crash.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press/11Alive News/WMBF News. All rights reserved.