Like thousands of other kids from the Washington region, Abraham Pishevar started college this year. His classes began Monday at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He was set to pursue engineering and compete on the wrestling team.

About 10 p.m. that first day, Pishevar, 18, of Rockville and three other Case Western students — one of them a pilot — climbed into a small airplane for what was supposed to be a quick, roundtrip of sight-seeing.

Moments after takeoff, the plane crashed into a fiery wreck. All four students were killed.

“He was impossible not to like,” Pishevar’s wrestling coach at Georgetown Preparatory School, Mike Kubik, said Tuesday. “He was on his way to being a spectacular human being.”

“He had the kindest, most gentle heart you could imagine,” said his father, A.P. Pishevar.

An undated photo of Abraham Pishevar, who was killed in a plane crash just east of Cleveland on Aug. 25 . (Courtesy of A.P. Pishevar)

About 10 p.m. Monday, a 1999 Cessna Model 172R lifted off from Cuyahoga County Airport, in Richmond Heights, just east of Cleveland, authorities said. Federal crash investigators are investigating what happened, but indications are that the pilot tried to quickly return.

“It appears that the aircraft was turning back to the airport when the crash occurred,” said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

The pilot — identified by Ohio state police as William M. Felten, 20, of Saginaw, Mich. — had a pilot’s license, Knudson said.

The two other passengers were identified as Lucas V. Marcelli, 20, of Massillon, Ohio; and John Hill, 18, of St. Simons, Ga. Officials at Case Western confirmed all four were students at the school.

“We are truly heartbroken about these promising lives cut short,” Case Western President Barbara R. Snyder said.

Two of the students — Felten and Marcelli — were active in fraternity life on campus, the school said. Three of the students — Marcelli, Pishevar and Hill — were members of the wrestling team, the school said.

From an early age, Pishevar emitted a bright smile and sense of humor, his father and friends said. As a 7-year-old, he went to a birthday party that had a clown.

“He took over and was funnier than the clown,” his father said.

In high school, Abraham Pishevar’s drive and character were on display in football and wrestling.

“He was beautiful to watch,” said Kubik, his wrestling coach. “Just by dint of hard work, he made a very large contribution.”

In wrestling, that meant losing weight or putting it on quickly if the team needed him in a specific weight class. Kubik said he remembers asking him to wrestle an opponent about 50 pounds heavier, and Pishevar did so without complaining.

During his senior year, Pishevar blew out his knee playing football. Devastated at first, he quickly rebounded — and could be seen at wrestling practices, rehabilitating his leg on an exercise bike and smiling when his teammates came by to chat. “He always seemed to be in a good mood,” said his classmate, Michael Sprague, who started classes Monday at American University.

A day later, Sprague and others who knew Pishevar gathered at Georgetown Prep for a prayer service, lingering with Kubik and others to talk about their friend.

“One of them remarked that it was kind of weird to have somebody outside of your family who loved you,” Kubik recalled.

But such memories were being overrun Tuesday by so many people in anguish of Pishevar’s death.

“My heart is shattered,” his father said.

Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.