Seven people were killed and several others injured after a vintage WWII aircraft crashed at Bradley International Airport Wednesday morning.
Ten of those aboard were passengers who had paid to take a short flight on the B-17, while three were crew. One person on the ground was also injured as the plane came down, as was a firefighter.
“At about 9:50, five minutes into the flight, the aircraft indicated to the tower that they were experiencing some type of problem with the aircraft,” said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority. “We did observe that the aircraft was not gaining altitude.”
He said the plane then attempted to return to the runway, circling the airport. But on touchdown, it lost control and struck a de-icing facility.
The B-17 was being operated by the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, as part of its Wings of Freedom tour.
— Peter Wilson (@PetesWire) October 2, 2019
Brian Hamer was standing about a mile away from the site just after 10 a.m. He told Connecticut Public Radio he saw a plane with an engine that began to sputter.
“He just kind of made a U-turn back to the airport and then we hoped he was OK," Hamer said. "He never really climbed -- he just turned and made it back to the airport. And then we heard the big rumble and then a big cloud of smoke -- black smoke -- went up.”
Bradley was closed for more than three hours as emergency crews responded to the scene. The airport re-opened with just one operational runway at about 1:30 p.m. Airport officials said they expect continued cancelation of flights throughout the day.
Our crews are operating at an aircraft crash at Bradley airport pic.twitter.com/WP7k2tQBpB
— IAFF Local S15 (@IaffS15) October 2, 2019
Commissioner James Rovella, of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection said casualties were transported to three different hospitals in the area, as officers worked to contact family members. He commended the emergency crews who responded to the scene, including the injured firefighter.
“Anytime you have a fire driven by a fuel of that type and the fuel load that goes with it, the fire is extremely hot," he told reporters. "The firefighter that was injured was only minor, but that is a challenging fire to put out and the airport authority fire suppression did a great job in doing that.”
In addition to state police, officials from the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Homeland Security were on the scene Wednesday. A ten-person team from the National Transportation Safety Board will take the lead in investigating the cause of the crash
“We will be collecting perishable evidence over the next hours and days as we begin our investigation," said Jennifer Homendy who is leading the team. "We just arrived on scene but our mission is to determine what happened, why it happened and to prevent it from happening again.”
Homendy says there will be a preliminary report in 10 days.
Governor Ned Lamont took part in a press conference at the airport on Wednesday afternoon.
“Right now my heart really goes out the families,” he said. “We’re going to give them the best information we can, as soon as we can in an honest way. These are all members of our Connecticut family. Our hearts are broken for you right now. You’re in our prayers”
Six of the injured were transported to Hartford Hospital, one by Lifestar helicopter. Medical staff described three as critically ill, two moderately injured and one minimally injured. Two were later transferred to Bridgeport Hospital’s burns unit.
“We train for this, this is why we’re here,” said Dr. Ken Robinson, Hartford Hospital’s chief of emergency medicine. “And all our teams are ready for this, because we train for these types of multiple casualty incidents.”
The FAA confirmed that the crash happened at the end of Runway 6, while the aircraft was attempting to land. The agency also said the aircraft is civilian registered and not flown by the military.
Blumenthal said he’s been in touch with the NTSB as they begin their investigation of the crash site.
“The tragedy that happened here may be a source of lessons for others who are still flying these B-17s,” he said. “It’s a vintage airplane and it needs to be properly maintained.” Blumenthal noted it’s not yet clear if maintenance issues contributed to the crash. The B-17 was one of 18 in the country registered with the FAA to be flight worthy.
The plane was one of five vintage aircraft at Bradley as part of the Wings of Freedom tour, organized by the Collings Foundation. The exhibit was open to the public, and the foundation offered public flights in the planes.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were on that flight and we will be forever grateful to the heroic efforts of the first responders at Bradley," the foundation said in a statement. "The Collings Foundation flight team is fully cooperating with officials to determine the cause of the crash of the B-17 Flying Fortress and will comment further when details become known."
A video produced by the Collings Foundation appears to show the same plane that was involved in Wednesday's crash.
Additional reporting by Ryan Lindsay, Ryan Caron King and Mike Dunphy
This post has been updated