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Friends: Student in crash was upbeat, happy to be flying
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A few hours before he died in a Connecticut plane crash, Feras Freitekh left a message for a close friend in his native Jordan in which he joked around, asked for help with a game app and said he would talk with him after a final flight test this week.
The friend, Amjad Majdy, said Freitekh was happy to be fulfilling his passion for aviation. He and others who were close to the student pilot say they are puzzled by U.S. officials' assertions that Tuesday's plane crash was intentional, including one official who said it appears to have been a suicide attempt by Freitekh.
"He was laughing and he was normal. Nothing wrong with him," Majdy, who lives in Amman, said via Facebook messaging. "He loved being a pilot. That was his dream."
Freitekh was flying with an instructor, Arian Prevalla, who was badly burned in the crash but expected to survive. The twin-engine Piper PA-34 Seneca was traveling to Hartford-Brainard Airport when it crashed on a busy road in East Hartford near the headquarters of jet-engine maker Pratt & Whitney. Two people in a minivan received minor injuries.
The student and the instructor had an altercation inside the cockpit during the training flight, and the instructor was unable to regain control of the plane before it crashed, a U.S. official familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press. The instructor described the student as disgruntled about his pilot studies, said the official, who was not authorized to publicly disclose information and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said the crash appeared to have been a suicide attempt.
The National Transportation Safety Board said a preliminary investigation showed the crash was intentional and the FBI would be taking over the investigation.
Freitekh was born in Kuwait and moved to Amman with his family when he was a boy, friends say, and he came to Hartford to attend the American Flight Academy in 2013. Besides flying, they say he loved playing video games including Dota 2 and World of Warcraft — both online, multiplayer games involving roleplaying and battling enemies. He also had a girlfriend.
Several friends said he was not known to have problems with depression or anger.
They said Freitekh was supposed to take his last flying exam Friday, and he planned to return to Jordan and look for an airline job.
A friend who lives in Jordan, Ma'en Al-wishah, said he talked with Freitekh a few days before the crash and Freitekh didn't say anything about having problems with his training.
"Planes were everything to him," Al-wishah said. "All he wanted is to get that license. He was always in a good mood. He was a funny guy. I can assure you ... Feras would never hurt anyone."
A former student described Prevalla, the instructor and president of the flight school, as a confident, reassuring teacher.
"He had this incredible way of demonstrating the procedures in the aircraft that made it so effortless to learn," said Chuck Platz, of Glastonbury, who received his pilot's license in June and did not know Freitekh. "I remember saying to myself, 'What an incredible pilot.'"
Freitekh's Facebook page includes photos and videos of him flying, a photo of him kissing a small plane and videos of funny things happening to people.
A meme he posted said, "Born to be a pilot."
Associated Press writer Joan Lowy contributed to this report from Washington.
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