By Richard Weizel
MILFORD, Ct (Reuters) - The pilot of a small plane that crashed into two Connecticut homes this month, killing him, his son and two children, told airport personnel just before the crash he had "visual contact" with the airport and was preparing to land, according to a preliminary report released on Tuesday.
The pilot, Bill Henningsgaard, and his 17-year-old son, Maxwell, were on a trip to visit colleges when the plane crashed August 9 into a Connecticut neighborhood as it approached Tweed-New Haven Airport.
The two other victims, 13-year-old Sadie Brantley and her one-year-old sister Madisyn Mitchell, were inside one of the houses at the time of the crash. The mother of the two girls, Joann Mitchell, was home at the time but was not injured.
The report by the National Transportation Safety Board said there were gusty winds of up to 22 mph and limited visibility at the time of the crash.
"It's just far too early to know what caused this crash and often it is a combination of factors. It may take up to a year to make that determination," said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.
Less than two minutes before the twin-engined propeller plane struck the homes, Henningsgaard, a retired Microsoft executive, told the air control tower he could see the runway and was preparing to land, the report said.
The plane, which had taken off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, was less than a mile from the runway at 11:20 a.m. when it suddenly became inverted, according to the report.
The report cites an interview with a student pilot who was driving eastbound nearby on Interstate 95.
"The airplane was inverted and traveling at a high rate of speed, nose first, towards the ground in the vicinity of where (the airport) was located," the witness, who was not named, was quoted as saying.
(Reporting by Richard Weizel; Editing by Edith Honan and Bob Burgdorfer)