EAST HAVEN, Conn. — A former Microsoft executive and his teenage son are presumed dead after their small plane crashed into a residential neighborhood a few blocks from an airport while trying to land, setting fire to two houses and killing as many as four other people, the man’s brother and authorities said.
Bill Henningsgaard and his teenage son, Maxwell, were traveling the East Coast to visit colleges, and Connecticut was part of the itinerary, said Blair Henningsgaard, the city attorney in Astoria, Ore.
Just before noon Friday, the multi-engine, propeller-driven plane struck two small homes near Tweed New Haven Airport. The aircraft’s left wing lodged in one house and its right wing in the other.
The family learned it was Bill Henningsgaard’s plane through the tail number, his brother said.
It wasn’t his first crash. Three years ago, Henningsgaard crash-landed his plane on Washington’s Columbia River, and he and his 84-year-old mother were rescued by a passing boat as the plane began to sink.
Henningsgaard was a member of Seattle-based Social Venture Partners, a foundation that helps build up communities. The foundation extended its condolences to his wife and two daughters.
“There are hundreds of people that have a story about Bill — when he went the extra mile, when he knew just the right thing to say, how he would never give up. He was truly all-in for this community, heart, mind and soul,” the foundation wrote Friday in a post on its website.
Late Friday, officials from a number of agencies were still at the scene trying to determine how many people had been killed. Officials said the total was four to six. The victims of the crash have not been identified.
“We haven’t recovered anybody at this point, and we presume there is going to be a very bad outcome,” East Haven fire Chief Douglas Jackson said Friday.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Robert Gretz said at a news conference Friday night there were casualty reports of two or three people in the plane and two or three people in one of the homes, including two children, ages 1 and 13. He said the reports were unconfirmed and that local and state authorities were at the scene looking for victims.
Hours after the crash, Malloy said rescuers had spotted two bodies, including one of an adult, but hadn’t recovered them. The plane’s fuselage had entered one of the houses, and the recovery effort was focusing on the home’s basement, he said.
Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. said later that the houses were still unstable and crews had not completed a full search.
The 10-seater plane, a Rockwell International Turbo Commander 690B, flew out of Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and crashed at 11:25 a.m., the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Tweed’s airport manager, Lori Hoffman-Soares, said the pilot had been in communication with air traffic control and hadn’t issued any distress calls.
“All we know is that it missed the approach and continued on,” she said.
A neighbor, David Esposito, said he heard a loud noise and then a thump: “No engine noise, nothing.”
“A woman was screaming her kids were in there,” he said.
Esposito, a retired teacher, said he ran into the upstairs of the house, where the woman believed her children were, but couldn’t find them after frantically searching a crib and closets. He returned downstairs to search some more, but he dragged the woman out when the flames became too strong.
In April 2009, Henningsgaard was flying a small plane from Astoria to Seattle when the engine quit and he tried to glide back to the airport. As he wrote 10 days later on a blog post, the plane crashed into the Columbia River after a harrowing five-minute descent. He and his mother, a former Astoria mayor, climbed out on a wing and were rescued.
He spent 14 years at Microsoft in various marketing and sales positions, according to his biography on Social Venture Partners website. He was a longtime board member at Youth Eastside Services, a Bellevue, Wash.-based agency that provides counseling and substance-abuse treatment, and led the organization’s $10.7 million fundraising campaign for its new headquarters, which opened in 2008.
A vigil for the victims of the crash is planned for Saturday night at Margaret Tucker Park.
Associated Press Steven DuBois in Portland, Ore., Gene Johnson in Seattle and Mike Melia in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.