Update On WWII Plane Crash Probe, Victims, Survivors & Heroes
WINDSOR LOCKS, CT — Authorities on Thursday announced the identities of those killed and injured in the crash of a World War II-era B-17G bomber at the Bradley International Airport Wednesday.
The Boeing vintage plane went down minutes after takeoff with 13 people on board, 10 passengers and three crew. Officials confirmed that seven people in the plane were killed in the crash and six were injured, three critically. Three people on the ground also were injured.
Police said that in some cases, the deaths are presumed due to difficultly in identifying bodies.
The crew are all presumed dead:
Pilot Ernest McCauley, 75, of Long Beach, California
Co-pilot Michael Foster, 71 of Jacksonville, Florida
Flight engineer Mitchell Milton, 34, of Dalhart, Texas
The passengers who survived but were injured are:
Andy Barrett, 36, of South Hadley, Massachusetts
Linda Schmidt, 62, of Suffield, Connecticut
Tom Schmidt, 62, of Suffield, Connecticut
Joseph Huber, 48, of Tariffville, Connecticut
James Traficante, 54, of Simsbury. (See below for more about “hero” Traficante.)
David Broderick, 56 of West Springfield, Massachusetts
The passengers who died or are presumed dead are:
Gary Mazzone, 66, of Broad Brook, Connecticut (See below for more about Mazzone)
James Roberts, 48, of Ludlow, Massachusetts
Robert Riddell, 59, of East Granby (See below for more about Riddell)
Robert Rubner, 64, of Tolland, Connecticut
One person was injured on the ground:
Airport worker Andrew Sullivan, 28, of Enfield, Connecticut
The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress
The plane’s last major inspection was in January 2019. Investigators requested a lot of documents including inspection and maintenance records, officials said at a press conference Thursday at Bradley Airport. The National Transportation Safety Board also has requested training records of the flight crew and a transcript of the conversation between the crew and the air traffic control.
The pilot flew the plane for more than 20 years, officials said. Prior to the crash, he radioed saying he was having issues with an engine, officials said. Investigators will start moving the wreckage Friday.
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine “heavy bomber” developed in the 1930s and was among the most-used bombers in the Allied campaign against the German Army during World War II.
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The plane that crashed Wednesday was one of several warbirds in a nationwide tour by its owner, the Collings Foundation of Massachusetts. The craft is one of only 16 left in the United States, according to the FAA.
More than 1,000 comments were left on the foundation’s Facebook page, hundreds sharing their experience of touring, and sfor many, flying in the plane, often with, or in remembrance of, a family member who served in WWII.
The plane, dubbed “Nine-0-Nine,” was manufactured in 1944 and bought by the foundation in 1986, one year after the plane’s landing gear failed to deploy during a flight in Nebraska.
In 1987, it crashed after the pilot overran a runway while attempting to land during an airshow at Beaver County Airport in Pittsburgh, CBS News Pittsburgh reported. Three people were injured and the crash was blamed on “gusty winds” that caused the bomber to “plunge down a hillside as thousands of spectators were waiting for the show’s finale.”
Last year, the foundation launched a fundraising campaign to raise $75,000 for a new engine for the “Nine-0-Nine,” writing in a Facebook post that after a Sept. 15 flight “the crew started looking into issues that they experienced and after inspection, the engine was determined to be failing.”
The foundation issued a statement after the crash saying it was cooperating in the investigation:
“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 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 Hartford Courant report about the tour noted the vintage planes could be toured for $15 and that
flights were available for a higher fee.
Since 1992, there have been 21 accidents involving World War II bomber planes, resulting in 23 deaths and one injury, NTSB officials said. Three of the planes involved were B-17Gs.
In The Air For Less Than 5 Minutes: ‘A B-17 has crashed.’
The pilot took off from Bradley Airport at 9:48 a.m. from runway 6. Within a few minutes the plane experienced problems and the pilot was not able to gain altitude, officials said. The pilot tried to circle back and return to the runway but lost control and struck the de-icing building, officials said. The accident was reported at 9:53 a.m.
Recordings from air traffic control and Windsor Locks police and rescue describe a terrifying crash and its aftermath: “A B-17 has crashed. A B-17 has crashed.”
The airport was closed for four hours after the crash.
Emergency Response & Investigation
After the plane went down, local, state and federal emergency crews swarmed the scene.
James C. Rovella, commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, praised the agencies that rushed in to help after the crash through a mutual aid agreement “that begins immediately” after a serious incident.
“Yesterday, a tragic event shocked and saddened all of us,” Rovella said. “Yet there was a true team effort to respond to the scene and to try to save as many lives as possible. This is a small state in which our first responders act as one for the best interest of their fellow citizens. They have my thanks, as well as the gratitude from Connecticut citizens.”
Rovella said Thursday officials “have our concerns” over the accident and what may have caused it. But he did not elaborate.
He called the emergency response “remarkable … considering the logistics involved. As the investigation into the crash continues, we keep the families of those injured and killed in our thoughts and prayers,” Rovella said.
The list of agencies involved in the rescue efforts and incident investigation is long. It includes the Connecticut State Police, State Fire Training Academy, Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Connecticut Airport Authority, DEEP, Airport Operations, Windsor Locks Police Department, and East Granby Resident Trooper’s Office.
Federal agencies including the NTSB, FAA, TSA, FBI, ATF, and the Department of Homeland Security.
The injured were treated at Hartford, St. Francis, and Bridgeport hospitals.
Fire departments that provided mutual aid support were Windsor Locks, Windsor, East Granby, Suffield, Blue Hills, Bloomfield, CT Air National Guard, Hazardville, Shaker Pines, Thompsonville, North Thompsonville, Enfield, UCONN, Avon, Burlington, Canton, Farmington, Simsbury, Rocky Hill, Willington, Berlin, Newington, Wethersfield, Cromwell and Hartford.
The EMS providers that responded included Windsor Locks Lions Ambulance, Collins Aerospace, East Windsor, Windsor, Ambulance Service of Manchester, American Medical Response, Granby, Windsor, and Life Star Helicopters.
Also responding were the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner, the American Red Cross from Connecticut and Massachusetts, Lockheed-Martin, Bradley Air Traffic Control, the Connecticut State’s Attorney Inspectors and the Sheraton Hartford at Bradley Airport.
Here’s what we know about some victims, survivors:
A Tribute to Robert Riddell
Robert Riddell woke up Monday thrilled to have the chance to fly in a B-17 Flying Fortress and said he hoped the weather would cooperate. On Wednesday night, his daughter told reporters her father’s “time of suffering is over from this crash.”
Riddell was a married father and grandfather who lived in East Granby, according to his Facebook profile. He was an analyst at The Hartford and originally from Colchester. His passion was World War II history. He traveled to Pearl Harbor, rebuilt a Jeep as a young man and had plans to travel to Normandy for his 60th birthday.
Riddell’s family said through their grief he died “doing something that was really near to him.”
On Monday, Riddell took to Facebook to share his excitement over having the opportunity to fly in a B-17 bomber, which was instrumental in the Allied bombing campaign in Europe during the war. He hoped for good weather.
Wednesday morning, he posted a photograph of the plane he was about to board. He was asked, “I thought it was tomorrow?” His reply: “Got switched. Just about ready to take off now … Here we go!”
Riddell was a big Aerosmith fan. He was a beloved family man. And one of his greatest loves was honoring those veterans, particularly those who gave their lives in the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. On Memorial Day he’d often be seen in parades around his hometown riding in the World War II Jeep he rebuilt as a teen, his family told local news.
Riddell’s wife Debra and his family waited Wednesday evening to hear from the medical examiner after learning all the survivors had been identified.
“Rob was not one of them,” she wrote on Facebook. “Rob was the best person I’ve ever known. He was my soul mate (and) I will miss him beyond words can ever express. He loved his children more than anyone could know and the new grandson was the apple of his eye. He embraced my daughter and grandchildren and loved them as his own.”
A Tribute to Gary Mazzone
Gary Mazzone was known affectionately as “Big Gar.” A University of Connecticut graduate, he was a police captain and spent two decades as an inspector for the state’s attorney’s office. Mazzone, 66, was one of the seven people who died Wednesday morning.
Mazzone was a father, grandfather, justice of the peace, vice president of the Class of 1971 at East Windsor High School and a lifelong East Windsor resident. He also was a writer.
As Vernon police captain, he was the field operations director for police services for the 55-member police department. He began his career as a police officer in 1976 and, over the years, served as a lieutenant, sergeant, detective and patrolman, according to his LinkedIn profile.
In 1998, Mazzone retired after serving 20 years and took a post as an inspector for then-Chief State’s Attorney John M. Bailey. Mazzone recently retired after more than two decades working for the State’s Attorney’s Office for Litchfield County.
“It’s an incomprehensible tragedy,” recently retired County State’s Attorney David Shepack was quoted as saying.
Mazzone had five children: daughter Maureen, sons Brian and Dan, and step-daughters Stacey and Kim.
In a tribute to his father, Mazzone’s son Brian wrote on Facebook he was “heartbroken.” Brian Mazzone, an English teacher at Enfield High School, is also the head coach of the Stafford-Somers-East Windsor football tri-op. Mazzone posted on Facebook Wednesday night to speak to his team and their families about his dad.
“My father, Gary died this morning in a plane crash at Bradley Airport. My dad followed our athletics our entire lives. But I don’t think anything ever gave my dad as much joy as following the Bulldogs. Whether he was telling me to, ‘tell these damn lineman to block,’ (or) ‘tell Lajoie to throw the freaking ball,’ (or) ‘the Russotto boys have been lifting hard,’ or my personal favorite, ‘I’m gonna tell ______ dad to shut the hell up real soon during the games.’
“He was (at) almost every game, postgame meeting, banquet, and he’d even stop in for practice. He also developed so many wonderful relationships with so many of you great people. He truly did care about you and your sons. I’m heartbroken. Thank you all for all the kind things you’ve reached out and said. My dad will always be a Bulldog.”
Brian Mazzone said his father was a good man, always ready to lend a hand — a generous, caring man.
“Chances are if you knew my dad, you liked him. Big Gar was always the life of the party, would do anything to help, was funny, caring and man, he had a damn good Stache. I’m just so sad my boys won’t get to grow up with him.”
Hero Airman Helped Save Lives
U.S. Air National Guard Chief Master Sergeant James M. Traficante was a passenger aboard the B-17. The decorated airman is being hailed as a hero for his actions after the crash.
Traficante, the commander of the Air National Guard 103rd Airlift Wing based in East Granby, opened an escape hatch in the plane and did so, the Hartford Courant reported, “with at least one broken arm and a broken collarbone.”
NBC Connecticut quoted the Air National Guard as saying Traficante had his “military-issued flame retardant flight gloves with him during the flight and used them when he opened a hatch on the aircraft, allowing other passengers off the plane after the crash.”
Traficante was taken to a hospital after the crash but was later released and was recovering at home, according to reports. A Patch effort to reach him for comment was unsuccessful.
In a statement, Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, the Adjutant General of the Connecticut National Guard said the Guard was grateful Traficante was safe:
“I ask that you respect his and his family’s privacy as he recovers. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragic accident. We are grateful for our firefighters who responded and who have worked tirelessly in supporting crash and recovery operations. The response to the B-17 crash was a joint effort and a great example of state and local municipalities working together. We will continue to provide support in any way we can.”
Traficante serves as the Command Chief Master Sergeant for the 103rd Airlift Wing at Bradley Air National Guard Base in East Granby.