A 28-year-old Jordanian national who was studying to become a pilot died after crashing a small plane Tuesday afternoon in Connecticut, and the instructor pilot who survived the crash said it was intentional.
The crash occurred near Pratt & Whitney, a defense contractor that makes jet engines for the military.
Local and state police, along with several federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, are now investigating the crash.
The NTSB said its initial investigation showed the crash was an intentional act. The FBI will be taking the leading role in the investigation. A motive has not yet been determined.
“In light of that information and in accordance with established procedures the NTSB is in the process of transferring the lead for the investigation from NTSB to the FBI,” the NTSB said in a statement. “The NTSB stands ready to support the FBI’s investigation should a request be made for agency expertise.”
A high-ranking law enforcement source told the Hartford Courant there was an argument between the student pilot and the instructor prior to the crash. The source said the student pilot said he didn’t want to fly the plane any longer, but it was not clear why, according to the Courant.
Another source told the newspaper that Freitekh began flying erratically and the instructor struggled to gain control of the plane.
The plane crashed just before 4 p.m. There were no serious injuries to anyone on the ground.
The surviving flight instructor, identified by the Courant as Arian Prevalla, was able to get out of the plane after the crash and is expected to survive.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Freitekh Came to the United States in 2012 on a Temporary Visa for Flight School & Had a License to Fly a Single-Engine Plane
His immigration status was later changed to an F-1 visa and he studied at a language school in Toledo, Ohio, the news network reports, before it eventually went back to an M-1 visa.
M-1 and F-1 visas are both student visas, according to the State Department.
On his Facebook page, Freitekh uses the name Rafael Majdi Feritekh. Friends commented on a photo showing Feritekh kissing the nose of a plane, offering condolences.
“May God have mercy on him and take him to heaven, Lord,” one friend wrote, in Arabic.
Another wrote, “God have mercy on you the best pilot. Final resting place heaven if god willing.”
A third friend wrote about the crash on his Facebook page, saying, “RIP Bro, we had fun times flying together in flight school, never expected this…Never expected you to die in a plane crash…still cant believe this..you died doing what you loved.”
The 28-year-old Freitekh has also lived in Orland Hills, Illinois, about 35 miles away from Chicago, the New York Times reports.
He began living there in April 2013, the Hartford Courant reports.
Freitekh obtained a private pilot certificate on May 29, 2015, and was licensed to fly a single-engine plane, according to the Times.
A cousin told the Courant Freitekh came to the United States to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.
“He was a good person, kind and helpful. He wasn’t religious at all. He was open-minded,” the cousin said.
2. The FBI & Local Police Raided an Apartment in Hartford Where He Lived With 3 Other Foreign Nationals Also Studying to Become Pilots
The FBI and local police raided an apartment on Annawan Street in Hartford, Connecticut, as part of the investigation, WVIT-TV reports.
Neighbors told WTIC-TV that four men lived together in the apartment targeted by police.
Sources told the Hartford Courant the three other men who lived there were also foreign nationals studying to become pilots.
Hartford Police remained at the scene Wednesday morning. Lieutenant Brian Foley, the Hartford Police spokesman, said it was connected to a law enforcement investigation, adding that the scene is “safe and not active.”
Foley said police had been at the scene through the night and “no suspects (are) at large,” and “no residents are in danger.”
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
“As a nation, we have all had to adjust to a new reality,” Malloy told reporters, according to the Courant. “When events such as this occur, we recognize that people almost automatically wonder if someone meant to do us harm. But we must exercise caution about jumping to conclusions before discovering and considering all of the facts.”
3. Police Called the Pratt & Whitney Plant Near the Crash ‘Critical Infrastructure’
The crash happened near a major defense contractor, Pratt & Whitney, which manufactures military and commercial jet engines. East Hartford Police Chief called the company’s plant “critical infrastructure,” the Hartford Courant reports.
Police said the FBI was contacted because of the proximity to Pratt & Whitney.
The aerospace contractor issued a statement after the crash Tuesday:
We are aware of the incident that occurred this afternoon on Main Street. Our thoughts are with the people affected. It does not appear at this time that any Pratt & Whitney employees or contractors were involved. Additionally, there is no impact to our operation here in East Hartford other than restricted traffic flow to the facility’s main entrance on Main Street. We stand ready to assist local officials as needed. Additional queries should be directed to the appropriate local officials.
Police said they have not ruled anything out as far as a possible motive for the crash. They said they could not comment about whether terrorism is being investigated.
“Terrorism is a criminal act,” East Hartford Police spokesman Lieutenant Joshua Litwin said at a press conference. “There is a lot of criminal investigators on scene. Nothing has been ruled out.”
According to police, investigators have also not ruled out that the crash could have been accident, despite the claims from the surviving pilot that it was intentional.
The investigation remains “extremely active,” police said.
4. The Piper PA-34 Twin-Engine ‘Dropped Like a Rock’ Before the Fiery Crash
The Piper PA-34 twin-engine plane took off Tuesday afternoon from a flight school at Brainard Airport, not far from the scene of the crash, WFSB-TV reports.
The plane was making its final descent back to Brainard Airport when the crash occurred, the news station reports.
It struck a utility pole on Main Street in East Hartford during the crash, and then burst into flames.
East Hartford Police spokesman Lieutenant Joshua Litwin said there are two sets of controls on the plane, but it is not clear who was in control at the time of the crash. Litwin said both men on board the plane would have been able to take control.
Jonathan Rucker told the Hartford Courant he saw the crash.
“I hear planes every day,” he said. “I heard a plane, then I didn’t hear anything. I looked up and the plane was just tipping over. It tipped to the left and dropped straight down. There was a loud bang, smoke and flame. It tipped to the left and just dropped like a rock.”
Another witness, Frank Crandall, told the Courant, “I saw the plane hit the power lines, go into a power pole and then hit just before a minivan and burst into flames. I thought the power lines were going to come down, so I gunned it.”
Part of Main Street near the scene of the crash remained closed Wednesday morning.
5. The Pilot Who Survived the Crash Suffered Serious Burns & Remains Hospitalized
The instructor pilot who survived the crash was hospitalized with serious burns, CBS News reports.
Officials say he is cooperating with the investigation.
He runs the Hartford Jet Center, according to his Linkedin profile. The flight school is based at Hartford-Brainard Airport, where the plane took off from on Tuesday.
Two people who were in a car near the scene of the crash were taken to the hospital after they were traumatized by what they saw, police say. But they were not injured.