Commander Crashed Inverted In New Haven

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The Rockwell Turbo Commander 690B that crashed into two houses in New Haven, Conn., on Friday was inverted when it hit the homes, the NTSB says. But spokesman Patrick Murray told Reuters  the pilot, retired Microsoft vice president Bill Henningsgaard, did not make any distress calls as he turned the aircraft to land in rainy weather at Tweed-New Haven Airport.  "There is no evidence right now that the pilot was in distress during his last conversation with the control tower and it appears he was turning to try and land when the tower lost contact with him," Murray said. Authorities have now confirmed that four people died in the crash. A 13-year-old girl and her year-old sister in one of the houses hit by the aircraft were confirmed dead, although their mother survived. Aboard the aircraft, according to the NTSB, were Henningsgaard and his teenage son, Max. The two, from Medina, Wash., were touring colleges on the east coast.  Weather at the time of the accident was about 900 feet broken and 3,700 feet overcast in light rain, with five miles visibility. The wind was out of the south at 14 knots. 

Residents of the neighborhood where the crash occurred have been interviewed by local media in the aftermath and say that recent safety improvements at the airport have altered the flight profiles of aircraft landing at the facility. The airport has built safety areas at the ends of the runways and just completed an aggressive trimming of trees on the approach. Residents told the New Haven Register that since the trees have been trimmed they have noticed that aircraft appear to be flying lower over their homes. “You can actually wave at the pilots,” said Jean Santino, who lives on Hall Street in New Haven. “Something’s wrong when you can wave at a pilot and the pilot waves back. It was never this bad until they did the [construction of the safety areas.] They were never this low before ...” Airport officials dispute the claims, saying procedures have not changed at the airport since the safety areas were built. “Our flight patterns did not change since the safety areas and since the trees have been cut,” Airport Manager Lori Hoffman-Soares said. “Air traffic controllers have not changed their procedures.” Henningsgaard, 54,  had survived a previous aircraft accident when he ditched an Epic LT into the Columbia River near Astoria following an engine failure. Henningsgaard and his mother, the only two aboard, escaped without injury and were picked up by a boat.