Loss of Control Eyed in Turbo Commander Crash

Investigators say airplane rolled inverted short of runway.

NTSB investigators are narrowing in on reports that the Rockwell Turbo Commander 690B that crashed while attempting to land in rainy weather at Connecticut’s Tweed-New Haven Airport rolled inverted before descending vertically into homes.

The pilot, retired Microsoft vice president Bill Henningsgaard, asked New Haven Tower for a straight-in landing as he flew an instrument approach from the south, but was told due to the wind direction to circle for a landing on Runway 20. Winds were reported as 190 degrees at 17 knots.

After the Turbo Commander entered the left downwind for Runway 20, the controller asked the pilot whether he was going to be able to maintain visual contact with the airport. Henningsgaard responded that he had the airport in sight seconds before the airplane went out of control, descending into the ground in a 60-degree nose down attitude, according to investigators.

The Turbo Commander crashed into two houses about a quarter mile short of the runway on Friday, August 9, killing Henningsgaard and his son along with a 13-year-old girl and her one-year-old sister inside one of the homes.

The weather at the time of the crash wasn’t great for the circling approach, with an overcast cloud layer reported at 700 to 900 feet in light rain and 5 miles visibility. New Haven’s Runway 20 does not have an instrument approach. Circling minimums for the approach to Runway 2 are 800 feet.

The 1978 Turbo Commander had departed New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport on a 25-minute flight that included the instrument approach to Runway 2.

There was no distress call from the pilot, and no indication that a mechanical problem caused the airplane to go out of control, NTSB investigators said. Among the issues the NTSB will consider is whether the Turbo Commander stalled as it maneuvered for landing. An engine failure is also a possibility that could explain why the airplane suddenly went out of control.

This wasn’t Henningsgaard first crash. In April 2009, while flying with his mother from Seattle, the engine of his Epic LT single-engine turboprop quit after a failure of the fuel control unit. He managed to safely ditch the airplane in the Columbia River before being rescued by boaters.

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