The FBI is investigating claims a Jordanian student pilot intentionally crashed a light aircraft, killing himself and injuring three others.
The Piper PA 34 was being flown by Feras M. Freitekh and his instructor when it crashed on Main Street in East Hartford at around 3.45pm on Tuesday, resulting in what one witness described as a ‘mushroom cloud explosion.’
Student pilot Freitekh, 28, a Jordanian national, was killed in the crash, according to reports by the New York Times.
His instructor was rushed to hospital with serious burns. Two people in a minivan close to the landing site were also hospitalized.
The FBI is now investigating whether the crash, near aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor Pratt & Whitney’s headquarters was intentional, after the instructor pilot claimed the plane was intentionally crashed.
The plane had taken off from Brainard Airport in Hartford, according to Mayor Marcia Leclerc, and crashed near the intersection of Main Street and Colt Street, just under half a mile away.
According to the FAA, the plane was on final approach to Runway 20 at Hartford-Brainard Airport.
The aircraft struck a utility pole and wires as it came down, bursting into a ‘mushroom cloud explosion’ and causing 520 power outages, according to Fox61.
The instructing pilot, who is awake in hospital and speaking with police but has not been named, said that his student Freitekh had crashed the plane on purpose, law enforcement sources told the Times.
As far as the occupants of the plane, he is expected to survive. He is cooperating with investigators he’s actually speaking with detectives as part of this investigation as ongoing,’ said East Hartford Police Lt. Josh Litwin, the Hartford Courant reports.
Freitekh came to the U.S. from Jordan in 2012 to go to flight school. He later attended a language school in Toledo, Ohio.
Federal Aviation Administration records show he was issued a private pilot certificate on May 29, 2015, and was certified to fly a single-engine plane.
Several friends and relatives of Freitekh posted on Facebook that they ‘forgave’ him after the crash.
‘God have mercy on you captain and forgive you my brother,’ wrote Abu Taj, over a picture of Feitekh kissing the a plane.
Saifeddin M. AlHussein added: ‘May God have mercy on him and forgive him.’
The state’s counter-terrorism unit have joined the FBI, State Police Central District Crime Squad and Fire and Explosion Investigations Unit in the multi agency investigation.
East Hartford police Chief Scott Sansom said the agency were investigating because the crash occurred suspiciously close to Pratt & Whitney, which he described as ‘critical infrastructure.’
‘It will be a lengthy investigation for the next few days,’ Sansom said, noting that it was too early to tell what caused the plane to crash.
State and federal investigators were still at the scene on Wednesday morning although there were no signs up stepped up security, according to the Times. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will join them today.
‘This is a very complex situation with a lot of different agencies and a lot of different moving parts,’ fire Chief John Oates said.
The cause for the crash has not yet been determined, and the investigation is expected to take several days to complete.
A Pratt & Whitney spokesman said that the crash was unconnected to the business or its employees or contractors but added that ‘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.’
Erick Zapata, who was eating at a Subway near the crash, told the Courtant that ‘out of nowhere a plane crashed into the pole.
‘Pieces started flying everywhere…’ he said. ‘I was nervous, I was shaking. It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.’
Another witness told the paper that the plane ‘went down, then it disintegrated. It was gone.’
Gregory Bell saw the plane flying unusually low as he drove home from work. ‘I saw the plane going low,’ he said. ‘It was too low.’
Moments later he heard the crash.
The pilot was reportedly taken to St Francis Hospital with serious burns, but was speaking to officers about the incident; the passenger was killed in the crash. It is not clear which one was the student.
Two people in a minivan close to where the plane came down were also taken to hospital. They were described as being uninjured but ‘a little bit traumatized’ by Leclerc.
Police said the plane did not appear to have directly struck the vehicle.
The FBI and FAA are conducting the investigation with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Flight Standards District Office and the Connecticut Airport Authority.