By Richard Weizel
MILFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - A plane flown by a retired Microsoft Corp. executive that crashed into a Connecticut neighborhood was upside down when it hit two houses, killing the pilot, his son and two young girls on the ground, officials said on Saturday.
Patrick Murray, a lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said there was no preliminary indication the plane was in distress or suffering from mechanical failure before it slammed into the houses in East Haven on Friday.
The pilot, Bill Henningsgaard, and his 17-year-old son, Maxwell, were on a trip to visit colleges when the plane crashed. Both died in the accident.
On Saturday, authorities identified the two other victims, a 13-year-old and one-year-old, both girls, who were inside one of the houses at the time of the crash.
The mother of the two girls, 39-year-old Joann Mitchell, was at home at the time and survived without any injuries.
"My heart is at a standstill," Mitchell wrote on her Facebook page. "The feeling of emptiness engulfs me. Mommy will always love you ... RIP my sweet angels."
The twin-engined propeller plane took off from Teterboro airport in New Jersey on Friday morning and had been attempting to land at Tweed New Haven Airport, about 40 miles south of Hartford, in rainy weather when it crashed.
"We don't know yet whether that played a role in the crash," Murray told reporters.
"There is no evidence right now that the pilot was in distress during his last conversation with the control tower and it appears he was turning to try and land when the tower lost contact with him," he said.
East Haven is a town of about 30,000 people located near the Long Island Sound, about 85 miles northeast of New York City.
A Microsoft spokesman confirmed that Henningsgaard was a former employee of the company.
The pilot's brother, Blair Henningsgaard, described Bill Henningsgaard as a careful pilot who had taken up flying after retiring from Microsoft.
"This is the third plane he's owned," Henningsgaard told Connecticut's WTNH television. He added that his brother had crashed once before, in 2009, when the fuel system on his plane malfunctioned.
That hadn't deterred him from returning to the cockpit, Henningsgaard said. "He believed that there wasn't anything that he couldn't figure out and accomplish if he put his mind to it," he said.
(Additional reporting by Noreen O'Donnell; Editing by Scott Malone, Kevin Gray and David Brunnstrom)