EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It appears a small plane crash in East Hartford, Connecticut that killed one person and injured another was an intentional act, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.
Based on these initial findings, the FBI will now be involved in the investigation.
The plane crashed Tuesday near Pratt & Whitney, which makes military and commercial jet engines. The defense contractor sent up alarms.
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, the mangled wreckage on Main Street in East Hartford does not even look like a plane anymore.
The crash happened Tuesday after authorities said the Piper PA-34 Seneca took off from Hartford’s Brainard Airport. The plane, which was supposed to be headed back to Brainard, struck a utility pole in East Hartford and crashed around 4 p.m., bursting into flames.
“This investigation is multi-faceted and as I said, it is extremely active,” East Hartford Police Lt. Josh Litwin said in a news conference Wednesday. “The FBI was called by us initially by virtue of the infrastructure surrounding the area.”
East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc said the crash survivor told local detectives it was not an accident. Leclerc cautioned that the information had not been confirmed.
Sources indicate the man who was killed was 28-year-old Feras M. Freitekh, a Jordanian national who first entered the U.S. in 2012 on a student visa to attend flight school, CBS News reported. He was certified as a single-engine pilot last year.
The instructor on board, Arian Prevalla, managed to survive the crash and get out of the plane. He was hospitalized late Wednesday with serious burns.
Prevalla was the first to suggest the crash was not an accident.
Litwin said it was unclear who was at the controls at the time of the crash.
“Being a twin engine aircraft, there are two sets of controllers in such a plane,” he said. “Either one of the two occupants at any time have the ability to control that plane.”
CBS Transportation Safety Analyst Mark Rosenker said one person in a plane with two controls could do damage.
“There are two sets of controls in this particular aircraft, but if someone truly wants to do something nefarious and they’re close enough to the ground as this was, they will succeed in actually taking the airplane down,” Rosenker told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.
Two people in a minivan near the crash were traumatized and were also taken to a hospital.
Suheilly Hernandez was in a van near the scene and her three daughters – ages 17, 15 and 5 inside. They were on their way to grab a sandwich.
I just heard by mom panicking, and when I looked up, I saw the crash,” said daughter Kimberlee Rivera, who was in the minivan with sisters Keishla and Karina.
On Wednesday night, they sat around the living room coffee table – telling CBS2’s Layton they couldn’t believe the plane crashed feet away from them. They also couldn’t believe from some minor pain and trauma – they walked away unharmed.
“Today I am a lucky one, me and my girls,” Hernandez said.
Litwin said it is too early to determine more details beyond that the plane crash was deliberate.
“Information indicates that this plane crash was intentional, but I want to be crystal clear — the circumstances beyond that are still being investigated,” Litwin said.
The plane seemed to drop out of the sky with shocking abruptness. It came to rest near an American Eagle Credit Union with 85 employees inside who ran for their lives.
“They didn’t know necessarily that it was a plane that went down,” said Dean Marchessault of the credit union. “All they saw was wreckage. There was a car; there was fire. It’s not unusual sometimes for a plane to be a little bit lower or a little bit louder.”
Sources indicated that student pilot Freitekh is not a suspected terrorist, but that the crash may have been a suicide.
Freitekh’s neighbors in Hartford said they saw him wearing what looked like a pilot’s shirt, and nothing seemed amiss.
“He’s a nice guy. That’s all I can say,” said neighbor Eric Bass. “All I can say is when he came in, he said ‘hello.’”
East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc seemed much more relaxed Tuesday, given where the investigation has led.
“I’m feeling very comfortable that the people that are in place here for this investigation are doing the best that they can do to bring a conclusion to the forefront,” Leclerc said.
Leclerc said there is no ongoing threat to the community.
Questions persisted late Wednesday about motive – was there a fight between the two men, or was there an apparent motive for suicide?
Main Street in East Hartford remained closed between Willow Street Extension and Ensign Street late Wednesday, but police were removing the wreckage and were set to reopen the road.
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