Witness: Pilot with Astoria roots was upside-down before plane crash

Witness: Pilot with Astoria roots was upside-down before plane crash
In this photo provided by the NTSB, senior air safety investigator Bob Gretz confers with emergency responders on the scene of the plane crash in East Haven, Conn. (AP Photo/National Transportation Safety Board)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The airplane that struck two Connecticut homes earlier this month, killing four people, was traveling upside-down as it sped nose-first toward the ground, according to a preliminary investigation report released Tuesday.

The report by the National Transportation Safety Board does not reveal a possible cause for the Aug. 9 crash, which killed two people on board and two children on the ground.

The doomed airplane's pilot, 54-year-old former Microsoft executive Bill Henningsgaard, was flying with his 17-year-old son, Maxwell, when the twin-engine, propeller-driven plane crashed on its approach to the New Haven airport. They were visiting East Coast colleges and had departed the morning of the crash from Teterboro, N.J.

Henningsgaard is the son of Astoria's former mayor, Edith Henningsgaard-Miller, and the brother of Astoria's current city attorney, Blair Henningsgaard.

A student pilot who was driving on Interstate 95 told investigators that he saw the plane traveling at a high rate of speed and upside-down as it descended near Tweed-New Haven airport. Investigators said previously that the plane was inverted when it hit one of the houses.

The significance of the witness account remains to be determined.

"They'll use that as one piece of the investigation," NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said. "It is consistent with how we found the wreckage."

Also killed were two girls in one of the houses, 13-year-old Sade Brantley and her 1-year-old sister, Madisyn Mitchell.

The preliminary report said the pilot confirmed visual contact with the runway in his last communication with the control tower. Officials have said he did not issue a distress call.

The cockpit, left engine and front two-thirds of the fuselage were found inside the basement of one of the homes. One wing was found on the back porch of the house, and the other struck the side of another house. Most of the wreckage was destroyed in a fire.

It could take about a year for the investigation to be completed.

It was the second time Bill Henningsgaard crashed a plane.

In 2009, pilot Henningsgaard and his 84-year-old mother were flying to Seattle when the plane's engine died at 8,000 feet and he made a crash landing into the Columbia River. The pair was rescued by Columbia River Bar Pilots.