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At least 7 dead after WWII-era bomber crashes at Bradley Airport

WCVB Boston logo WCVB Boston 10/3/2019
B-17 crash © Provided by Hearst Television, Inc. B-17 crash

At least seven people have died after a World War II-era bomber plane crashed Wednesday at Bradley International Airport, officials confirmed.

Seven other people were injured.

Thick, black smoke rose from the airport as emergency crews responded to the 10 a.m. crash of the B-17 bomber at the airfield in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, just north of Hartford.

Three crew members and 10 passengers were on board the plane, officials said. One person on the ground was injured, officials said.

The patients were taken to three area hospitals -- Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital and Bridgeport Hospital. Officials at Hartford Hospital said they received six patients, including three who were critically injured.

The Federal Aviation Administration said on Twitter that the B-17 had been trying to land and crashed on Runway 6. It was civilian registered and not flown by the military, the FAA said.

The plane was in the air for approximately 5 minutes before it experienced problems, attempted to return to the airfield and crashed into a de-icing facility.

Connecticut Public Safety Commissioner James Rovella said hours after the crash that some of those on board were burned, and “the victims are very difficult to identify.”

The death toll of seven could rise, Rovella said. He said some lives were likely saved by the efforts of people including a person who raced to help the victims and people on the plane who helped others to escape the fire by opening a hatch, Rovella said.

“You’re going to hear about some heroic efforts from some of the individuals that were in and around that plane,” he said.

Airport officials said the plane was associated with the Collings Foundation, a Massachusetts-based educational group that brought its "Wings of Freedom" vintage aircraft display to Bradley International Airport this week.

"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," Collings 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 plane flying in the air: B-17 Nine-o-Nine © B-17 Nine-o-Nine

The foundation lowered the flags outside its Massachusetts headquarters after the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of 10 to investigate the cause of the crash.

The plane was a few minutes into the flight when the pilots reported a problem and said it was not gaining altitude, officials said. It lost control upon touching down and struck the shed just before 10 a.m.

In recordings of audio transmissions, the pilot told an air traffic controller that he needed to return to the airport and land immediately. Asked why, he said: “Number four engine, we’d like to return and blow it out.”

Brian Hamer, of Norton, Massachusetts, said he was less than a mile away when he saw a B-17, “which you don’t normally see,” fly directly overhead, apparently trying without success to gain altitude.

One of the engines began to sputter, and smoke came out the back, Hamer said. The plane made a wide turn and headed back toward the airport, he said.

“Then we heard all the rumbling and the thunder, and all the smoke comes up, and we kind of figured it wasn’t good,” Hamer said.

Antonio Arreguin said he had parked at a construction site near the airport for breakfast when he heard an explosion. He said he did not see the plane but could feel the heat from the fire, which was about 250 yards away.

“In front of me, I see this big ball of orange fire, and I knew something happened,” he said. “The ball of fire was very big.”

A smaller explosion followed about a minute after the first blast, he said. He saw emergency crews scrambling within seconds.

The Collings Foundation offers flights to the general public during the "Wings of Freedom" tour.

Before the tour’s stop this week at Bradley Airport, the five planes that are part of the "Wings of Freedom" tour visited Nashua, New Hampshire, last weekend and Worcester and Plymouth last week.

The Boeing B-17 that crashed was known as the “Nine-O-Nine,” and was in service as a combat plane for the U.S. military from December 1943 until December 1945.

The "Nine-O-Nine" had two previous crashes -- one in 1987 and one in 1995.

Today, there are only 39 known remaining B-17 bombers in the United States. Fewer than 20 are still flyable.

Bradley Airport was fully closed until about 1:30 p.m., when the airfield reopened one runway. Officials said there are numerous cancellations and passengers should check with their carrier.

The crash is being investigated by a number of agencies including the Connecticut State Police, Connecticut Airport Authority, National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

The town of Windsor issued a health advisory for potential discharge of firefighting foam into the Farmington River after the crash.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

READ MORE:At least 7 dead after WWII-era bomber crashes at Bradley Airport

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