TIME Connecticut

Survivor of East Hartford Plane Crash Told Authorities It Was Intentional

The crash appeared to be a suicide attempt, not terrorism

(EAST HARTFORD, Conn.) — A flight instructor and a student pilot had an altercation inside the cockpit of a small plane and the instructor was unable to regain control from the trainee before it crashed near the Connecticut headquarters of a military jet engine manufacturer, killing the student, a U.S. official familiar with the investigation said Wednesday.

The crash appeared to have been a suicide attempt by the student and terrorism was ruled out, the official told The Association Press. The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Piper PA-34 Seneca crashed with the two men aboard during a training flight Tuesday in East Hartford near the headquarters of Pratt & Whitney, while returning to Brainard Airport in Hartford, authorities said. The flight instructor was badly burned but survived.

The instructor described the student pilot as disgruntled about learning to be a pilot, the U.S. official said.

The flight instructor is Arian Prevalla, 43, and the student was Feras Freitekh, said a law enforcement official, who wasn’t authorized to disclose the information and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Prevalla’s social media pages indicate he is president of the American Flight Academy and a managing member of the Hartford Jet Center, both based in Hartford. The pages say he originally is from Albania and now lives in Hartford. On LinkedIn, Prevalla said he received a bachelor’s degree in Aviation Science from Mountain State University, a now-defunct university in Beckley, West Virginia.

Freitekh lived in the Chicago suburb of Orland Hills since 2013 and received a private pilot certificate last year from the Federal Aviation Administration, according to public records.

Safety officials said Wednesday that the FBI was taking over as lead investigator of the crash because of indications that it was an intentional act.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that its initial investigation indicated the wreck was deliberate. An agency spokesman, Terry Williams, said he couldn’t elaborate on the basis of that finding.

The survivor told police detectives it was not an accident, according to East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc.

“It’s troubling,” Leclerc said. “But I also know that stories change and information can be skewed. We’re waiting for the facts to come out.”

Authorities said the student and instructor were about to land at Brainard Airport in Hartford when the plane struck a utility pole and crashed onto the road at around 4 p.m. Tuesday, bursting into flames. The crash site is a short distance from the airport, across the Connecticut River and in line with the runway.

“The path that the plane took could have been much worse. So we’re very fortunate in that sense,” East Hartford Police Chief Scott Sansom said.

The police chief initially asked the FBI to assist in the investigation because it happened so close to Pratt & Whitney. The company said its operations weren’t affected by the crash and none of its employees was involved.

Police say Prevalla is hospitalized with serious burns and is expected to live. The medical examiner’s office was expected to perform an autopsy on Freitekh.

In Hartford, local, state and federal authorities were investigating an apartment in connection with the plane crash, Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley said. He did not release further details, including why the apartment was being investigated.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was briefed by the state police commissioner, said he had not decided to beef up security anywhere in light of the crash.

“I’m not aware of any specific threats associated with this action,” Malloy told reporters Wednesday. “If I was, then we would take those steps. I am not currently aware nor have I been made aware of any specific threats.”

Associated Press writers Joan Lowy in Washington, Denise Lavoie in Boston and Michael Melia in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.

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