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7 Killed In Crash Of WWII Aircraft At Connecticut Airport

Smoke fills the sky after a World War II-era plane crashed Wednesday at Bradley International Airport north of Hartford, Conn.
Antonio Arreguin via AP

Updated at 7:05 p.m. ET

Seven people were killed when a World War II-era plane crashed and caught fire Wednesday morning as it was attempting to land at Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Conn., according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Thirteen people were onboard the plane, Connecticut Commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection James Rovella said at a news conference. Some of the survivors were in critical condition.

Rovella did not release the names of the victims.

The vintage B-17, which was carrying 10 passengers and three crew members, reported trouble just minutes after it took off, according to Connecticut Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin Dillon.

The plane lifted off at 9:45 a.m. ET, and "five minutes into the flight, the aircraft indicated to the tower that they were experiencing some type of problem with the aircraft," Dillon said. Observers on the ground noticed that it was not gaining altitude. It circled and tried to land.

"Unfortunately, upon touchdown, the aircraft obviously lost control, struck what's known as our de-icing facility here," he said. It also hit a maintenance facility.

Aerial images from the scene show a destroyed and charred plane, and several buildings around it appear to have sustained damage.

The airport in the town of Windsor Locks was closed for several hours after the crash, though the state officials said the facility would be partially operational in the afternoon. The FAA said it had "put in a ground stop for flights that are destined for the airport."

The plane belongs to the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit that provides educational programs about aviation history. The foundation has a touring exhibition of antique aircraft called the "Wings of Freedom Tour" featuring five WWII planes.

A B-17 flying fortress WWII bomber belonging to the Collings Foundation landing in Texas in 2010. It's not clear if this is the same B-17 that crashed on Wednesday.
Dr. Scott M. Lieberman / AP
A B-17 flying fortress WWII bomber belonging to the Collings Foundation landing in Texas in 2010. It's not clear if this is the same B-17 that crashed on Wednesday.

Brian Hamer, who was about a mile from the airport when the plane crashed, told Connecticut Public Radio that he saw the plane in trouble.

"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."

The tour recently offered opportunities for the public to fly for half-hour rides in the vintage aircraft.

"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."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters that the B-17 that crashed "is one of only 18 in the entire country."

"I think there is a real need for scrutiny and oversight here. And the tragedy that happened here may be a source of lessons for others who are still flying those B-17s. It's a vintage airplane and it needs to be properly maintained."

It's not clear when the plane last received a safety certification.

The National Transportation Safety Board has launcheda "go team" to investigate.

The nearby town of Windsor has issued a health warning that the firefighting foam used to combat the crash fire may have discharged into the Farmington River. "The public is advised not to come into contact with foam they may encounter on the Farmington River or the river banks, as well as to not take fish from the river," the warning reads.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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