A Seattle pilot visiting colleges with his 17-year-old son missed the Tweed airport runway and crashed into two homes, leaving two families mourning in the wake of a fatal flight.
The disaster struck at 11:22 a.m. on Friday, when a private plane plowed into two homes at 64 and 68 Charter Oak Ave. in East Haven, just north of Tweed New Haven Airport. The airport reopened late Friday after temporarily closing due to the crash investigation.
Between four and six people died in the crash, Robert Gertz, said senior air safety investigator at the National Transit Safety Board during a Friday evening news briefing. He said there were between two and three people in the house and between two and three people in the plane. State police and firefighters have begun searching through the rubble to find victims’ bodies, he said. Much of the wreckage, including the plane, is in the basement of 64 Charter Oak.
Three people have been confirmed dead: The pilot and two children, ages 1 and 13, who were home at the time of the crash, according to Branford Fire Chief Jack Ahern. The pilot has been identified by family as Bill Henningsgaard of Seattle, a former vice president of Microsoft. He was traveling with his son, Max.
The mother of the two children, who was outside screaming for help as her children were trapped inside the house, met with a priest, received medical attention, and is being supported by nearby family members, according to Mayor Maturo.
The crash sent New Haven safety officials scrambling to help their neighbors.
East Haven got the call at 11:22 and summoned New Haven to help right away.
New Haven Acting Battalion Chief Billy Gambardella said he was downtown when he got the call that a plane had crashed into a building near Tweed. He started heading to East Haven. By the time he got to Burr Street, “there was a huge black mushroom of smoke in the sky” above Charter Oak Avenue. He said Capt. Matt Marcarelli was first on the scene from New Haven, followed by Engine 16 from Morris Cove.
They found two houses up in flames with a downed airplane between them, which was also fully engulfed in flames, Gambardella said.
“It’s horrific. We get there and the mother’s screaming” for her kids inside her home, Gambardella said.
New Haven tackled the fire at 68 Charter Oak while East Haven tackled the fire at the other home, number 64. The plane apparently clipped the roof of 68 Charter Oak, causing a partial roof collapse, Gambardella said. New Haven’s bravest went into the home to search for people. No one was inside.
New Haven firefighters also doused flames that erupted in a blue Kia Sportage SUV in a driveway between the homes. The fires were put out within half an hour, said East Haven Fire Chief Doug Jackson.
New Haven cops arrived on scene to help with traffic check points and relieve East Haven officers from other patrols.
Mayor John DeStefano showed up twice to support East Haven Mayor Joe Maturo as he faced growing masses of reporters from across the state and New York.
Click the play arrow to see footage of the houses, in a video shot by the Branford Eagle’s Mary Johnson.
Gov. Dannel Malloy visited the wreckage Friday afternoon and reported that two bodies had been found in the basement of 64 Charter Oak. He said the pilot of the plane may have had up to two passengers with him.
The plane departed from Teterboro, New Jersey at 10:49 a.m. and was headed to Runway Two at Tweed, according to Laurie Hoffman-Soares, airport manager. Charter Oak Avenue sits in the normal flight path of planes landing at Tweed. Authorities believe the plane made a first pass, then made a “second go-around” before crashing into the homes, according to Malloy.
Tweed’s air traffic control tower was manned at the time of the crash, Malloy said. The plane was a “Rockwell International Turbo Commander 690B, a multi-engine turbo prop aircraft,” according to the Federal Aviation Administration. It had space for about eight passengers, according to East Haven Fire Chief Jackson. The plane’s fuselage crashed into the first floor of 64 Charter Oak, ending up in the basement. “Whatever we can find must be in the basement,” Malloy said.
The crash ripped a wall off of 68 Charter Oak revealing a couch and TV. Parts of the plane were visible in the backyard. Sixty-Four Charter Oak was more severely burned. Both homes are white, Cape Cod-style houses with 1 1/2 stories.
The crash sent waves of shock through the quiet residential neighborhood.
Joe Fatone (pictured), a sanitation worker for the City of New Haven, said he performed his 5 a.m. trash-collecting route in New Haven Friday then went home to his house just two streets away from the crash. He said he’s used to seeing planes fly above. But the plane Friday “came over our house sideways,” which was odd, he said.
When it crashed, “our house shook,” he said.
Fatone’s daughter went to middle school with the 13-year-old who died in the home.
“My heart just goes out to the families,” Fatone said.
Across the street from the house, New Haven cop Andrea Ansaldo sheltered reporters from the rain in her open garage.
Ansaldo, who’s 48, patrols Westville. She had the day off Friday. She went out and came home Friday shortly after the crash.
She said her neighbor at 68 Charter Oak was away at work when the plane plowed through his house, ripping off half of the roof. He showed up later that day to survey the damage. Ansaldo said the mother in the home that was more badly damaged lived alone with her baby and daughter. They just moved onto the street in the past six months, she said.
A neighbor, Michael Quintiliani (pictured), said he was home at the time of the crash.
“I heard the plane. I heard it come down,” he said. He looked outside and saw “a big ball of fire.”
He said if there were kids in the house, he doesn’t think they would have survived.
Quintiliani said he saw the kids’ mom outside. “I heard her screaming. She was screaming, ‘Oh my god. Oh my god. Somebody’s inside there.”
After the crash, he said, “everybody came running.”
New Haven Police Sgt. Vinnie Anastasio, East Shore’s top cop, arrived at the scene Wednesday morning when the smoke was still rising.
“It was horrific,” he said of the scene. It was “very, very hard to deal with,” in part “because I have teenaged children,” he said.
Anastasio, who has lived his whole life in the East Shore, said he knows a family just a couple of doors down from the crash. He checked on them and was relieved to find out they were OK.
At the time of the crash, the pilot was in communication with the air traffic control tower and issued no signs of distress, according to Hoffman-Soares.
There is “total devastation in the back of the home,” said Mayor Maturo.
The National Transit Safety Board took over control of the accident scene.
Carolyn Smith (pictured), who lives on Charter Oak Avenue north of the site of the crash, said she had been working from home when she heard a boom.
“I went outside and saw a plume of black smoke from the road,” she said. “I was worried that a plane crashed.”
Smith said that’s been a constant worry during the eight years she’s lived there.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano (pictured) arrived for a 12:45 p.m. press conference, along with New Haven’s police and fire chiefs, chief administrative officer, and other top fire and police officials.
“I came because it was East Haven and it was Tweed airport,” DeStefano said.
Destefano said the last time he remembers a plane from Tweed hitting a house was in 1971.
That crash, involving an Allegheny Airlines (now US Airways) plane, occurred on June 7, 1971. Twenty-eight people died.
At 2:55 p.m. state Sen. Toni Harp, who’s running for mayor in New Haven, released the following statement: “While the full extent of the damage is not yet known, it’s clear there is loss of life involved. It is at a time like this that we realize what is truly important in life. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families on Charter Oak Avenue as well as those of anyone on the plane. We also should all pause and pray for the safety of the brave first responders.”
At 1:03 p.m. mayoral candidate Justin Elicker tweeted: “My heart goes out to those affected by the plane crash in East Haven.”
At 2:04 p.m. U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal released the following statement: “My heart goes out to the families of those who have lost loved ones in this tragedy. I commend the first responders whose bravery and professionalism prevented further loss and heartbreak. My office stands ready to assist in any way possible.”
Marcia Chambers contributed reporting.