Seven Dead In Collings Foundation Flying Fortress Crash (Updated)

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A World War II B-17 Flying Fortress owned by the Collings Foundation crashed at Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport (BDL) on Wednesday morning, killing seven people and injuring seven more. There were three crewmembers and ten passengers onboard the aircraft. Victims were transported to three hospitals in the area. Some have since been released. Pilot Ernest McCauley, 75, and co-pilot Michael Foster, 71, were among those killed along with passengers David Broderick, 56, Gary Mazzone, 66, James Roberts, 48, Robert Riddell, 59, and Robert Rubner, 64. The airport was closed until approximately 1:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday, at which point one runway was reopened.

“A vintage Boeing B-17 crashed at the end of Runway 6 while attempting to land at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., at 10 a.m.” the FAA said in a statement. “It is a civilian registered aircraft, not flown by the military.”

According to Executive Director of the Connecticut Airport Authority Kevin Dillon, the pilots indicated to the tower that they were experiencing “some type of problem with the aircraft” approximately five minutes after takeoff from BDL. Dillon said the aircraft was observed to not be gaining altitude and ATC recordings suggest that there was a problem with one of the engines. The aircraft returned to the airport where it lost control on touchdown and struck the airport deicing facility at 9:54 a.m. Two airport employees were present at the facility at the time of the accident, one of whom was injured. There was a significant post-crash fire and one firefighter was reportedly injured while working to contain it. The NTSB launched a Go Team led by Board Member Jennifer Homendy to investigate the accident. The ten-person team arrived at the site on Wednesday afternoon and the NTSB released the video footage below of their initial investigation on Thursday.

The Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour was scheduled to be at the airport until Thursday. “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. “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.” The aircraft has been identified as the foundation’s B-17G Nine-O-Nine.

The Collings Foundation Nine-O-Nine, registered N93012, entered service in April 1945. It was purchased and restored by the foundation in 1986 after having spent time as an air-sea rescue aircraft, nuclear test subject and fire bomber. N93012 did not see combat but was named and painted to honor the original Nine-O-Nine, which completed 140 combat missions without an abort or loss of a crewman and dropped an estimated 562,000 pounds of bombs in WWII. The first Nine-O-Nine flew with the U.S. Army Air Forces 91st Bomb Group’s 323rd Squadron. It was retired after the end of the war and scrapped.

Video: NTSB

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20 COMMENTS

  1. #3 (or more) puked on takeoff. Pilots did good job dragging around with shallow turns but lost it last moments.
    I had the run of a nearly empty AZ CAF “Sentimental Journey” on a two leg trip from Glens Falls, NY, to Columbus years ago. The highlight of my aviation career sitting in every position during the all day trip just above or below a scattered cloud deck. I had done some token refurb work on it as volunteer at Falcon years before when I was Chief Instructor of ASU Flight Program [before ASU nearly destroyed department going full ab initio in Bonanzas at Willy with Lufthansa… IMHO so Dean and Chair could get “orientated” during multiple German vacations. I counter-proposed combo traditional and ab initio and got terminated for it. Student fatalities followed.] I had set up a tent at the KGFL Airshow hawking my then-new “Sport Pilot Encyclopedia”…a tent which “Journey” regularly blew over during its reload turns. Chatted w/crew during intervals and got offered the trip. Landed midway uneventfully at relatively tight Beaver County, PA, where I think 909 had run off the end into a deep gully years before us.

  2. Brand new WWII aircraft were very dangerous.
    70 year old antique warplanes are very dangerous x 70.
    4 engine antique bombers are 4 x 70 x very dangerous.

    As much as I like these old planes, it’s probably time to stop flying these dangerous relics with passengers on board. Paying passengers unfortunately got the “real experience” of the inherent dangers in a real WWII aircraft. Airshows with large safety areas would be fine, because the real dangers of these things is recognized and better limited.

    • I’m of the opinion that rare or historically significant airplanes should be parked. They’re too important to be flying. Sad story to be sure. I think I heard 7 perished? I’m sure there’ll be a lot of info coming out now and the ‘boys’ will be giving us all some extra ‘help,’ too.

      • As much as I love seeing the old warbirds in flight, I tend to agree. There are simply too few left to risk losing them. I would rather only see a B-17 static in a museum than never see one again at all.

  3. I think All airplanes are dangerous and should all be parked. Sorta like all cars on the highway. They are even much more dangerous then airplanes.
    so they should be parked and scrapped they are so dangerous.

    • 70 year old race cars with lots of fuel and marginal brakes probably should not be carry paying passengers on the open public roadway either. Take it to a track and drive it by yourself all you want. The problem is created when you involve the public with your ancient mechanical high speed machinery. Keep it running but minimize the risk to the public.

  4. Firstly – let’s be clear about the human factor – it is a tragic loss of life. No one WANTS to be there – however fully or peripherally involved. Heart goes out to all touched by this event.

    I’ve flown with the Collings Foundation – though not in 909 – in one of their P-51’s. I was briefed, understood clearly and assumed my share and responsibility of accepting risk. In return an opportunity to fly an iconic warbird. Some risk mitigation you have to take on faith (plane in annual, preflight by someone more experienced in the mark than you). Other risk mitigation – you are still able to assume. How well does the pilot look me in the eye, how firm is the handshake, do they sound competent, does the cockpit drill look good. You can call “stop” right up to the hold short. After that – welcome to life.

    There WILL be more danger this morning attempting to make a left turn across speeding traffic out of our condo onto the main road trying to get to work – than crossing the hold short and taking off on 04 at my airport three miles down the road. I can mitigate it somewhat by turning right and going a half mile out my way down to the right and getting turned around there. Some mornings I do. But if I want to go to work – I have to get on the road.

    No one wants what happened to have happened. But such is life and as soon as the weather breaks I will take my plane flying. I’ll accept the risk there too after I’ve done everything I can to mitigate it.

    Put them in a museum? There are plenty there. They will sit, unable to be boarded and looked at, where you will be unable to see and touch and taste and smell and begin to get the slightest inkling and glimmer of comprehension as to what it was like to fly and fight one. No way! Put them on the ramp to be crawled over and keep them flying.

    • Well said!
      I had the privilege of flying the B-24 All American from KMEM to KMKL and consider it a highlight in my lifetime as a pilot and as a human being. A walk on or a picture could not replace the sense of connection with our Brothers who put their lives in that airplane that I felt in the process of actually flying her.

  5. I have always believed that these old warbirds belong in museums for historical value and in memory of those who flew them for a really good reason. Are we one day going to entertain fully restored and flying B-1s, B-2s, B-58s, SR-71s, restored and sailing nuclear submarines, and so forth?

  6. Hopefully the final report will not take a year – or?
    An interview with a tower operator who had to be watching every moment
    from take off to the end, would tell much – don’t you think?
    Those folks watch thousands of movements & surely can give an educated
    account as to what happened.
    My take.
    Also, had to be numerous folks videoing this with their phones.
    Would like toes one.

  7. The problem with old aircraft is metal fatigue, and it is an unavoidable fact that old engines occasionally give up, plus that spare parts might have been wrongly installed or below-par items have been used as replacement items. Non-TSO-ed modifications might have been added without getting OKed from FAA.

    Add to that in-flight fires, pilot errors and instrument malfunctions leading to flight terminations before the planned return to terra firma.

    Remember a flight in a military DC-3 (it had had a long and varied life even then) years ago, that ended with aborted flight and a quick return to the airport, where every kind of emergency vehicle we had was following us along the runway, till we stopped and they soon swarmed around the aircraft, which just had blown a plug. Sobering it was, though.

  8. It will come down to an actuarial consideration, as to whether or not these a/c stay in the air or not. Of course, the one thing that I can’t get past is ‘how could all 4 engines begin to fail at once; or even two or 3 at once?”. The bird should be airworthy on two engines, the way they are flown under the waiver they are way under gross (aren’t they?). Everything will depend on the actuarial outcome, and that in turn will largely depend on the NTSB report.