Audio recording from air traffic control before the East Haven plane crash. (8/9/13)More >
EAST HAVEN, CT (WFSB) -
Federal investigators will spend the next few days in East Haven to try and figure out what caused a plane to fall from the sky, crash into two homes and spark a massive fire on a second approach to Tweed-New Haven Airport on Friday morning.
Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration said a Rockwell International Turbo Commander 690B was en route to the airport from Teterboro Airport, NJ, and was scheduled to land on Runway 2 at Tweed Airport in New Haven.
But just before 11:30 a.m., chaos ensued along Charter Oak Avenue after the plane crashed into the homes, ripped apart and burst into flames.
"It was coming right across in the front, but it was really low," witness Pam Lenart said. "And I said 'Oh my God, he's going to crash.' It was just your first instinct. And then he just kept going, so I ran to the back door through the house, and I looked up around to the side, and I didn't see him."
Witnesses said there was no sign of distress before the plane crashed, and the pilot was in communication with air traffic controllers.
"This is a very tragic event," said East Haven Fire Chief Doug Jackson, who added the department's training and mutual aid assisted in the incident.
Inside one of the homes that was hit by the plane was a single mother and her two children, identified as 1-year-old Madisyn Mitchell and 13-year old Sade Brantley. Officials said the mother, Joann Mitchell, was in the front of the home and her children were in the back.
Moments after the crash Joann Mitchell fled from inside and began screaming that her children were still inside the burning structure.
East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. said officials were with the mother and were doing whatever they could to help her. He said family arrived at the crash site to comfort her, and the family priest also arrived to offer his support.
"It's total devastation," Maturo said.
Gov. Dannel Malloy also headed to the scene when he got word of what took place in East Haven. When he arrived he held a news conference to update a shaken neighborhood and shocked community as to what happened.
"What we have to do is figure out what happened, first and foremost," Malloy said. "Who's been injured or deceased as a result, and put forth our best ways to make sure this doesn't happen again."
Officials said they found the bodies of the pilot and the 1-year-old in the basement of the home after the crash.
The multi-engine turboprop aircraft belongs to Ellumax Leasing LLC out of Washington state. Eyewitness News has learned the company belongs to former Microsoft executive Bill Henningsgaard.
There are also reports that Henningsgaard's son was on board on a tour visiting colleges along the East Coast.
In a statement his employer, Social Venture Partners, said "There are hundreds of people that have a story about Bill - when he went the extra mile, when he knew just the right thing to say, how he would never give up. He was truly all in for this community - heart, mind and soul."
Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said they will now comb over what's left of the wreckage and could have a preliminary report in the next five to 10 days determining the cause of the crash.
"The left wing is in one house, the right wing is in the other. I would say about 50 to 60 percent (of the plane) was consumed in the fire, mostly the forward portion," NTSB investigator Robert Gretz said at a news conference Friday night.
Since it's a private plane, there is no black box, no cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder, but Gretz said they are hoping they might be able to recover a GPS device.
"It does make it more difficult," he said. "Luckily, the New Haven air traffic control tower, I believe, is going to provide us radar data."
Gretz said on the ground there's no sign of distress or reports that the engine stopped or ran out of gas, but said they will look into Friday's weather to see if that may have played a role in causing the crash.
Throughout Connecticut on Friday there were reports of thunderstorms, torrential downpours, strong wind and some lightning. Flash flooding was also reported in several Connecticut communities.
"We'll be talking with air traffic control to see what control saw or heard," Gretz said.
The shocked and saddened community was expected to come together Saturday night for a vigil at Tucker Park on Main Street.
On June 7, 1971, Allegheny Airlines Convair CV-580 crashed while approaching Tweed Airport, according to documents provided by the NTSB. The plane was destroyed, and 30 people on board were killed in the crash, the documents state.
To read the full report on the 1971 crash, click here.
Stay with Channel 3 Eyewitness News and wfsb.com for the latest on the plane crash in East Haven.
Copyright 2013 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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