Wreckage removed from East Haven plane crash site - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Wreckage removed from East Haven plane crash site

Posted: Updated:
Pablo Campos Iona was killed and his instructor, 20-year-old Rafayel Hany Wassef is in critical condition. (Contributed photos) Pablo Campos Iona was killed and his instructor, 20-year-old Rafayel Hany Wassef is in critical condition. (Contributed photos)
Rafayel Hany Wassef. (Contributed photo) Rafayel Hany Wassef. (Contributed photo)
EAST HAVEN, CT (WFSB) -

Police have identified the instructor involved in a plane crash in East Haven on Wednesday morning, as the investigation continues.

They said the crash left 31-year-old student pilot Pablo Campos Iona dead and badly hurt his instructor, 20-year-old Rafayel Hany Wassef of New London.

Wassef remains at Yale-New Haven Hospital in critical condition.

The National Transportation Safety Board was at the scene on Thursday to remove the wreckage.

Officials said the Tomahawk Piper plane broadcasted a mayday shortly after takeoff and was on approach to Tweed New Haven Airport when it crashed into a marsh just 25 yards from the runway.

The plane went down around 10 a.m. on Wednesday near Roses Farm Road.

Federal investigators have been trying to figure out what led to the mayday.

"There were no obvious catastrophic issues, both wings were there, the tail was there, we were able to document the whole airplane, the engine was there with the propeller," said Robert Gretz, of the NTSB.

Along with federal investigators, the insurance company was also on site on Thursday.

First responders said they had a difficult time getting to the scene because there was 2 feet of muddy and icy water and the grass was 10 feet high.

"The original problem we had was actually finding it," said Chief Doug Jackson, East Haven Fire Department. "The pampas grass is 8-10 feet tall, when you're walking around in it, you can only see 4 or 5 feet [in front]. We got some assistance from the tower and somebody in a private aircraft helped us out, spotting it."

With investigators returning to the scene, Jackson anticipated conditions not making things any easier.

"They're going to have some difficulty, but they called in a specialty contractor to assist in removing the plane for further evaluation," he said.

For photos of the scene, click here.

It's unclear who was behind the controls in the plane.

The NTSB's preliminary report is expected in about 10 days. The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating the crash.

"We want send our condolences to the family of the deceased and want to thank all of the outside organizations who assisted us yesterday.  In these situations, there is always a period of chaos.  It is during this time that our training comes into play.  Yesterday was an example of several different agencies working together towards one common goal; to tend to the injured and address the loss of life. The East Haven Police Department will take on more of a support role from here on out and will assist the NTSB with whatever else they need moving forward," East Haven Police Lt. Joseph M. Murgo said in a statement on Thursday. 

Wednesday night, friends gathered for a vigil to remember Campos Iona at the La Quinta Inn in New Haven.

They said Campos Iona's passion for flying was known to everyone.

The plane was from the American Flight Academy, which is the same academy involved in a deadly plane crash that happened in East Hartford last October.

In that case, academy owner Arian Prevalla survived.

“We have no comment at this time as we do not know the details regarding this incident. Our thoughts are with the family and loved ones of the instructor and the student who were on board,” Kevin E. Dehghani, who is the attorney for Prevalla, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Still shaken from the tragic news, Campos Isona's family, didn't want to speak on Thursday, but a recent Facebook post, along with this picture, shows their anguish, with a family member saying “My super mini macho man, as I used to called him when he was just a newborn. I used to grab him and fly him like superman. My baby. He called me my mami sister.  He passed away today pursuing his dream to fly. He died in the east haven airplane crash. My brother, my son Pablo Campos Isona. Love you so much. Rip."

A friend wrote "I remember like yesterday talking to you about flying. You had a passion talking about it .. Today I woke up in tears  thinking about you my friend ,my brother. Heaven has another angel. Rest in peace Pablo Campos.”

Forty four miles up the coast in New London, those who know Wassef, were thinking about him.

"He's a very charismatic individual, he came from Egypt, when he arrived, it was for him a real seamless transition, he clicked well with teammates, along with all the kids at the school,” said Tommy Thompson, New London High School principal.

Wassef played soccer and tennis at New London High School.

In a Skype interview, flight student, Richard Knecht said he was just in a plane with Wassef last Saturday.

"He was a great guy to work with. I was with him for a little while because there were no other instructors in East Haven, so he's a good guy, just finished in Florida, some of his training. Lived in New London and he was building hours, which a lot of the young instructors are doing to get into the big flights like Delta, American Airlines,” Knecht said.

While the FAA and NTSB investigate, he says they shouldn't just focus on the student pilot and the instructor, but also the school, the planes, and the maintenance. 

"When a plane falls out of the sky it makes the news, when an accident happens on I-95 it doesn't because that's more common. Planes just don't fall, these people have been doing it for hundreds or hours. We've got to look at the bigger picture of the school itself,” Knecht said.

Eyewitness News reached out to the FAA on Wednesday and Thursday to see if they have had any issues or complaints lodged against with the American Flight Academy and their planes, however they have not return requests for comment.

Copyright 2017 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.