A 31-year-old East Haven man is dead and a 20-year-old New London man is in critical condition after a small two-seater airplane crashed in East Haven Wednesday morning.
NBC Connecticut has learned that the owner of the plane is the same man who survived a plane crash in East Hartford four months ago, according to officials and public records.
The person killed in the crash is 31-year-old Pablo Campos Isona, of East Haven, according to family members and East Haven police. Campos Isona was a flight student, family members said.
East Haven police identified the other man as Rafayel Hany Wassef, 20, of New London.
Campos Isona's nephew, Will Gonzalez, said his uncle devoted himself to flying. He had completed half of his flight school courses and was doing well in flight school.
"This is probably the worst day of my life,"Gonzalez said. "I was just sitting with him at the kitchen table yesterday when he was studying."
Campos Isona and Wassef were in the Piper PA-38 Tomahawk when the crash happened and Wassef is in critical condition at Yale-New Haven Hospital. NBC Connecticut has learned that he is a flight instructor at Connecticut Flight Academy.
The single-engine plane went down in a marshy area in East Haven, near Tweed New Haven Airport, just before 10 a.m.. and might have plunged from as high as 1,000 feet. It took emergency crews around 15 minutes to find the plane.
The pilot and passenger indicated they were doing practice take offs and landings when they developed a problem, according to Robert Gretz, an NTSB senior air safety investigator.
"They reported a generic emergency, a mayday, but they weren't specific, and in trying to get back to the airport, the aircraft nosed down into a swamp area," Gretz said.
It was not clear who was controlling the plane at the time of the crash.
"It's a dual-control airplane, so either could have been manipulating the controls or both at the time of the crash," Gretz said. Determining who was controlling the plane will be part of the investigation, he said.
Crews from the NTSB will be in East Haven today to begin the crash investigation, which could take a year.
A recovery company is removing the wreckage to take it to Delaware and tale a closer look at the plane. The plane will be removed at 12:45 p.m. Thursday and NTSB will hold a news conference at 4 p.m.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane that crashed is registered to International Aviation LLC.
State records list Wethersfield resident Arian Prevalla as the owner of American Flight Academy, a flight school opened at Tweed Airport in 2014. Prevalla, a flight instructor, also founded Connecticut Flight Academy in 2006.
He survived a plane crash on Oct. 11, 2016 that killed Feras Freitekh, who died of smoke inhalation.
A senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told NBC News that Prevalla told investigators Freitekh, a Jordanian national, was at the controls at the time of the crash. Some kind of argument or struggle for the controls ensued, the official said, and the plane crashed. The instructor did not know why it happened.
The National Traffic Safety Bureau is investigating the crash.
NBC Connecticut reached out to Prevalla's attorney, who responded by email.
"We have no comment at this time as we do not know the details on this incident. Our thoughts are with the family and loved ones of the instructor and the student who were on board," the statement says.
Police said the plane was found north of Roses Farm Road, off of airport property.
The weather posed no visibility issues and the conditions were good for flying, according to meteorologists.
The conditions, however, posed issues for first responders who had to get through two feet of water and ice to get to the aircraft, which is partially in the mud.
Laura D’Agostino and her husband, Paul, live on Roses Farm Road also witnessed the small plane go down.
“The plane basically took a nosedive,” D’Agostino told NBC Connecticut.
D’Agostino said their property backs up to marshland that’s part of the Tweed Airport property.
When they saw the plane go down, her husband immediately rushed out to help.
"It was all wrong. I mean, living here long enough, I've been here 27 years, I know what's right and wrong about a plane," he said.
"It just was wrong. ... It was twisted in the air. .., It looked like it tried to recover. As it came over the house it just did a nosedive right into the marsh," he said.
Then, Paul D’Agostino called 911 and jumped on a tractor to try and help, but the tractor got stuck, so he jumped off, yelled to the people, but there was no response.
"It's really wet back there," said Paul D’Agostino, adding that paramedics also had difficulty getting there.
PAST AVIATION CRASHES IN CONNECTICUT:
The last airplane crash in East Haven was in 2013 when a 10-seat plane crashed into two houses. Four people were killed during that crash, including former Microsoft executive Bill Henningsgaard, of Medina, Washington, his 13-year-old son, Maxwell; and two children in one of the homes -- 13-year-old Sade Brantley and her 1-year-old sister, Madisyn Mitchell.
The worst aviation disaster in Connecticut happened on June 7, 1971 when Allegheny Airlines Flight 485 crashed into a row of East Haven beach cottages on final approach to Tweed, killing 28 people.