The FBI took the lead in the investigation of a fatal Oct. 11 crash of a Piper Seneca, about a half-mile from Hartford-Brainard Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, just across the street from the Pratt & Whitney factory where military and civilian aircraft engines have been made for decades. Initial fears of terrorism were soon displaced by another theory: that the crash was a result of a distraught pilot’s suicide, and officials urged the public not to jump to conclusions.
Statements by the surviving instructor prompted the NTSB to quickly determine the crash was the result of a deliberate act and turn the investigation over to law enforcement. As the FBI probe continued Oct. 12, a search of the apartment where Feras M. Freitekh, 28, lived while training at the American Flight Academy found no evidence of terrorism, sources told The Hartford Courant.
Suicide is very rarely the cause of a general aviation fatality. According to data collected by the AOPA Air Safety Institute, between 1996 and 2015, there were 33 suicide attempts, 31 of them successful—including two cases in which passengers jumped from an airplane in flight. About 515 million flight hours were logged during that period, based on estimates derived from annual activity surveys. AOPA media relations staff have fielded inquiries from media outlets, and have provided data and information to help reporters unfamiliar with aviation understand the context of this story.
The Courant reported that Freitekh, who earned a private pilot certificate in 2015, filled his Facebook page with photos that illustrate a love of flying, including a profile picture that shows him kissing a propeller spinner. The newspaper spoke to a man in Amman, Jordan, who identified himself as Freitekh’s cousin and told the newspaper that Freitekh had come to the United States to fulfill a dream of becoming a pilot. Freitekh, the cousin said, was “open minded,” and “wasn’t religious at all.”
Neighbors said Freitekh stood out among the other international students as particularly friendly and outgoing, known to bring ice cream for children who lived in the building and cook traditional Jordanian dishes for neighbors.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy cautioned Oct. 12 that the public should not jump to conclusions.
"As a nation, we have all had to adjust to a new reality," Malloy told reporters. "When events such as this occur, we recognize that people almost automatically wonder if someone meant to do us harm. But we must exercise caution about jumping to conclusions before discovering and considering all of the facts."
Pratt & Whitney workers interviewed by the newspaper Oct. 12 said they were still shaken by the crash, the wreckage having come to rest just across Main Street from an employee parking lot. Gregory Bell told The Courant he had seen the airplane flying “too low,” and heard the crash a moment later. A minivan stopped just short of colliding with the airplane, and its occupants, a woman and her three children, were taken to the hospital but not injured, police said. A Pratt & Whitney spokesman said operations were not affected except for the closure of the road near the main entrance while investigators documented the scene and collected evidence.