Credit Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times
In the moments before a Piper PA-34 Seneca twin-engine plane plunged into a street in a suburban Connecticut town, tearing through power lines and narrowly avoiding people on the ground, the two men on board had a heated exchange, law enforcement officials said on Wednesday.
Only one of the men, Arian Prevalla, a flight instructor, survived the crash on Tuesday, crawling from the wreckage, badly burned and bruised, just before the aircraft burst into flames on Main Street in East Hartford.
His account of what took place in those final moments has led investigators to believe that the aircraft was intentionally driven into the ground — although the motive remains unclear.
The crash took place near the gates of one of the world’s largest manufacturers of jet engines, Pratt & Whitney, so federal agents were called to the scene as a matter of course. When Mr. Prevalla told investigators the crash was not an accident, the Federal Bureau of Investigation took over the case.
A federal law enforcement official briefed on the case said that there was no evidence of international terrorism, or that the crash was politically motivated.
Given the nature of the argument in the cockpit, investigators are looking into whether the instructor’s student had mental health problems and was trying to commit suicide, law enforcement officials said.
The student, Fera M. Freitekh, 28, was a Jordanian national of Palestinian descent who came to the United States several years ago to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a pilot, according to his cousin Abdul-Rahman Freitekh.
Officials Say Plane Crash Was Intentional
A Facebook page that appears to belong to Mr. Freitekh features several videos of him flying over Niagara Falls and making landings. In one picture, he is kissing the nose of a plane. It also includes a video display of a July 4 fireworks celebration, with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” playing in the background.
Mr. Prevalla, speaking to investigators from his hospital bed, where he was recovering on Wednesday, outlined an argument the two had had in the cockpit in the moments before the crash. The details of that confrontation are what led law enforcement officials to believe it was a suicide and not something more sinister.
The plane, used for training, was equipped with two sets of controls, one for the instructor and one for the student. In his statement to investigators, Mr. Prevalla said the arguing occurred as they made a final approach to Runway 20 at Hartford-Brainard Airport.
Mr. Freitekh was coming in for a landing when he told the instructor that “something’s a little off here,” a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said. Mr. Prevalla, according to the official, “says, ‘Let me take over.’ And the kid comes in for a second time for a landing, or he doesn’t let him take over.”
Mr. Prevalla was becoming increasingly anxious, and as they made a second approach, he told Mr. Freitekh, “I’m taking over,” according to the official.
But apparently before the instructor could get control, Mr. Freitekh sent the plane into a nose-dive onto Main Street.
Looking at the wreckage, which remained scattered on the street on Wednesday, it was hard to see how anyone was able to escape.
The plane crashed around 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, tearing through telephone wires and power lines as it barreled toward the busy street. It burst into flames only yards from a minivan with several passengers, narrowly missing the vehicle and people on the ground.
Site of crash
Pratt & Whitney
Lt. Josh Litwin of the East Hartford Police Department, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said, “The fact that there were not more casualties is pretty amazing.”
Mr. Freitekh’s cousin, who was interviewed in Jordan, said Mr. Freitekh first came to the United States three years ago to study flying. When he was not able to take his final exam for financial reasons, he returned to Jordan to make money selling video games online and working at a clothing store, according to the cousin.
After six or seven months, Mr. Freitekh was able to save enough money to return to the United States and resume his pilot lessons, eventually enrolling at the American Flight Academy in Hartford.
Records with the Federal Aviation Administration show he was issued a private pilot certificate on May 29, 2015, and was certified to fly a single-engine plane. His cousin said he aspired to fly twin-engine planes.
Mr. Freitekh’s mother lives in a middle-class neighborhood in the Jordanian capital, Amman. His father, who remains married to his mother, came to the United States about a decade ago for financial reasons.
His cousin said that Mr. Freitekh “was not religious at all.”
“He did not pray,” the cousin continued. “Religion was not an issue.”
Investigators said Mr. Freitekh was most recently living with several roommates in an East Hartford apartment building.
A neighbor, Wanda Sanchez, said Mr. Freitekh had shared with her in casual conversation that all five residents of the apartment were studying at the flight school.
“They were quiet, peaceful,” Ms. Sanchez said. “They were always home. They told us they were trying to be pilots.”
Correction: October 12, 2016
An earlier version of this article misidentified the given name of a lieutenant with the East Hartford Police Department. He is Josh Litwin, not John.