Plane crash in Connecticut was intentional, NTSB says

There probably isn’t a pilot of small planes in America who isn’t holding his/her breath this afternoon waiting for the inevitable calls to ban aircraft in the wake of the National Transportation Safety Board’s revelation this afternoon that a plane that crashed in East Hartford, CT., yesterday was intentionally brought down.

The Hartford Courant describes a weird series of events that only adds to the mystery.

The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the student pilot told the instructor he did not want to fly the plane any longer, although it is not clear why. Another source said the student pilot starting flying the plane erratically and the instructor fought to gain control before the crash.

An initial search of an apartment where the student pilot, Feras M. Freitekh, was staying turned up no evidence of terrorism, the source said. But the FBI continued to search the apartment until about 2 p.m. Wednesday. Freitekh, 28, was killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board said its initial investigation indicates the crash was intentional and that the FBI will lead the investigation.

The authorities acknowledged that everyone automatically assumes terrorism and that seems to be the case , too. The local newspaper and other media, for example, noted there’s a Pratt and Whitney plant nearby.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy warned Wednesday that the general public should not jump to conclusions about the reasons for the plane crash.

“As a nation, we have all had to adjust to a new reality,” Malloy told reporters at the state Capitol. “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.”

Malloy has been briefed by the state police, who are involved in the investigation along with other authorities. He declined to discuss specific details of the investigation and referred questions to the FBI.

When asked if there is a no-fly zone over the Pratt & Whitney complex in East Hartford, Malloy said, “That’s a rather large site, so I hadn’t considered that – next to an international airport, as well as a local airport that has limited-size airplanes available to it.”

Regarding whether there is a need for increasing security across the state, Malloy said he was “not aware of any specific threats associated with this action.”

We all know what’s coming. The same thing that was asserted when a KSTP reporter walked into my hangar a few years ago, intent on creating a threat where none existed.

small_planes

“Al Qaeda could use small planes,” KSTP alleged.

But, of course, al Qaeda didn’t use small planes. Neither did any other terrorist organization, and there’s a pretty good reason for that. Small planes are lousy for terrorism, and pretty good for killing the occasional ne’er-do-well who mistakenly thinks they are.

Let’s look at the pictures of that Connecticut plane crash again.

Telephone pole. Unharmed. Significant because the plane hit power lines and then the pole. Minivan: Hardly damaged. Parking signs: Pristine. Pavement: Still solid. Fire: small.

There simply isn’t any mass to small planes which presents significant harm. Underneath the skin of a wing, which is about as thick as a Coke can’s aluminum, there’s not much of anything: Air mostly. When it meets another object, a Pratt & Whitney plant, for instance, guess what gives?

That’s what kills people in small plane crashes. There nothing much to absorb energy other than the people inside.

  • Veronica

    Wait. Someone survived that? Holy heck!

    • I’m anxious to hear more about that. I’ve seen references that he jumped out. Where/when, I’m not sure.

  • Matt Black

    This is just going to be bad for private pilots all around. There will be the push against small planes and the threat like you talked about. More troublesome to me is the fact that if it turns out the student was suffering from any sort of depression symptoms, the calls for “Nobody with depression should fly” will be loud and insistent.

    The FAA’s rules around mental health (or health in general, really) already make so a pilot will do everything in their power to hide stuff from a Flight Doc. This isn’t going to help.

    • The CFI’s statement that it started when the student said “I don’t want to fly anymore” is about as odd as it comes.

  • Oh sure it’s tough to steal a small plane and load it up with dynamite from YOUR hangar, but then there’s your neighbor’s hangar with this badass baby in it:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0ce3621c1a0301d105d94ce3262c21dc61cfa7d1df3fe949179aee1ab8467d78.jpg

  • MrE85

    Who am I supposed to believe in that old KSTP clip? You or Doug? 😉
    Funny, I’m working with KSTP-TV right now on something that really can kill you — lung cancer.

    • Terrorists are spreading lung cancer now?

      • MrE85

        Someone did try to tie our support of higher tobacco taxes to terrorism once. I stared at that open-jawed for awhile.

  • Zachary

    Just remember, the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a plane – is gravity and loss of lift.

  • DavidG

    It’s not like this hasn’t happened before with small planes.

    This one in Tampa only managed to damage a single office:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_Tampa_airplane_crash

    But this one in Austin TX seems to have done a bit more damage:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Austin_suicide_attack

  • Mike

    Wow, it’s almost as if authorities look for excuses to aggrandize power.

  • jon

    Kinetic energy = 1/2 m v^2

    Mass of a small plane (piper or cessna) is about a ton. Mass of my hatch back, about 2 tons. (all wheel drive adds some weight)

    top speed of a cessna or similar probably around 200 mph?
    Top speed of my car, about 150.

    back of the napkin numbers… My car at top speed rammed into something carries about 10% more energy than this hypothetical plane I gathered from googling numbers on “small plane”

    Of course my car is heavier than most passenger cars, but the back of my drivers license says I can drive things up to 26,000 lbs… and tractor trailers can push 160,000, and some of them are literally loaded with flammable or explosive materials!

    While you need a special license to drive a tractor trailer, I don’t suspect that will stop terrorists from taking one and crashing it… Heck we even label the outside of them to let the terrorists know which contain the most volatile materials.

    I’m really left wondering what we’d do if terrorists did attack by stealing a tanker truck and driving it into a government building… or rigging an IED along the rail lines for trains that are carrying oil.

    What kind of security, or security theater could we even put in place for such a long run of unprotected infrastructure? Airports were/are comparatively easy to “secure”…

    • I don’t know what your first two paragraphs mean nor how you calculated them.

      FWIW, the Seneca is a twin-engine plane with a maximum structural speed of 165 knots — about 185 mph. A Cessna 172, the most common small plane, I suppose, can go about 150 or so — if you can get it into a dive — before little pieces start falling off.

      The difference between a car and a plane is a car is made of a steel frame. A plane is aluminum. Does that impact — no pun intended — the calculations?

      • jon

        I was admittedly using rough numbers.

        As for aluminum vs steel, steel is heavier, which is accounted for in the mass, but you are also dealing with a potential for an elastic vs inelastic collision, at least at lower speeds.

        Consider getting hit by a beer bottle in a bar fight, it hurts the most when the bottle doesn’t break. If the bottle breaks energy was put into shattering the glass, and moving the end of the broken bottle further past your face, not all into your skull.

        Aluminum is going to bend, comparatively easily at first, and absorb an impact, it’s my understanding that it’s part of why airplanes are made out of aluminum, that flexing in the wing allows for them to actually fly where steels rigidity (and weight) would cause problems. Though cars now have crumple zones to give a similar effect.

        But at high speeds the effect isn’t particularly large.

        (side note: 1/2mv^2 is also when if you want to hit something hard with a baseball bat you should pick an aluminum bat over wood, mass doesn’t matter as much as speed, and lighter aluminum bats get moving faster…. the elastic vs inelastic collisions also supports that because wood bats break when aluminum bats only dent.)

        • The primary reason for aluminum is that it’s light.

          The only purpose of the wing is to direct air over the top of it faster than the air beneath it.

          Prior to aluminum, the substance of choice was fabric — I think Lindbergh’s plane was mostly fabric but I could be wrong .

          • jon

            Yes weight is a key factor. But it’s not that straight forward either… material science is rarely straightforward.

            Aluminum flexes, and returns to it’s original shape, so you can let it flex without causing damage (to an extent), you don’t need to enforce it to the point where it stays rigid… steel will also flex, but it doesn’t bounce back to it’s original shape as well, and repeated flexing weakens the metal. (there is a technical term for this property… I forget what it is)

            If I’m recalling my physics and material science stuff from college correctly a plane could be made with steel wings, but either the plane would need to have the wings re-enforced to the point that they don’t flex (more weight) or they need to have the wings replaced often enough to deal with the stressed metal.

            I believe that the flex in the wings was one of the key design features in the wright brothers plane… (the give allowed of the plane to fly level and absorb the differences in lift without causing instability, like a shock absorber)

          • Flex in the wings was important to the Wright Brothers because they didn’t know how to turn an airplane without “wing warping”

            They hadn’t advanced to the aileron era yet.

          • Can you calculate how much mass/speed/magic would be required of a 2200 pound aluminum structure with 42 gallons of gasoline to inflict damage on, say,a typical factory building? Looking at the picture above, it appears most of the energy was absorbed the airframe and telephone pole/lines without damage to any other structure, or at least significant damage. Maybe there’s a big hole in the asphalt, but I doubt it.

          • jon

            Lot’s of variables, but it’s not hard to come up with scary numbers.

            KE= (1/2)mv^2

            we’ll need to switch to SI units to 2200 lbs is 997.9 kg.
            you gave 185nph as a top speed above… that’s 82.7024 m/s

            that’s 3,412,661 joules.
            But there is also 42 gallons of gasoline… or around 120kg of gasoline, with an energy density of 46,400,000j/kg so 5,568,000,000 joules of energy there…

            So about 5.6 Gigajoules…. or a little over one ton of TNT equivalent energy. Gasoline has a higher energy density than TNT (or so says wikipedia) which is how your 1 ton plane deliveres 1 ton of TNT energy total… but there is a catch…
            The assumption that your gas tank will explode like it does in movies.. complete fireball.
            In reality liquid gasoline doesn’t even burn… if there is an ignition source, 42 gallons can create a fireball, but the gas would have to vaporized first, and you are more likely to have a big long burning fire than a big boom…

            The actual impact generated enough force to match a few sticks of dynamite in energy (0.8 kg)… but executed over a much longer time (a crash happens fast, but dynamite explodes faster).

            Crashing a plane probably not a great way to damage a building, unless you plan to load it up with explosives first… though if you’ve got explosives might I suggest saving the plane (and your life) and just going for a regular old bombing run? They managed to do lot’s of damage in WWII with regular old explosive and incendiary devices without having to build a new plane each time (exception to the Japanese…)