WINDSOR LOCKS, CT (UPDATED 7:45 p.m.) — A World War II-era B-17 “Flying Fortress” crashed Wednesday at Bradley International Airport, killing seven of the 13 people on board, airport officials said during a briefing shortly before 6 p.m.
Six of those on board survived the crash with injuries, according to State Police Commissioner James Rovella. One other person was injured but was on the ground at the time of the crash Wednesday morning.
Rovella confirmed the seven deaths, but declined to give any more details because the families of three of the victims had yet to be notified.
The vintage B-17 crashed on a runway as its pilot tried to land, according to the FAA.
The crash happened at the southwestern end of the main runway, not far from the international arrivals terminal. The plane struck a maintenance and de-icing building when it crashed.
Jennifer Homendy of the NTSB said they arrived at the scene at 4 p.m. Wednesday and will be collecting any video, photos, and other perishable evidence over the next seven to 10 days.
“We will be looking at the history of this aircraft and how it was maintained,” Homendy said
Connecticut Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin Dillon said the plane took off at 9:45 a.m. and by 9:50 its crew had told the air traffic controllers that there was a problem with the plane. It crashed at 9:54 after circling back and attempting to land, Dillon said.
The plane was apparently not gaining altitude after it took off, Dillon said.
Bradley’s secondary runway reopened at about 1:30 p.m.
The plane, which was owned by the Collings Foundation, was giving flights this week at the airport. A flight on the B-17 cost $450, according to a press release from the nonprofit organization. Previous news stories about the Collings Foundation’s events said the group’s B-17 was known as the “Nine-O-Nine.”
“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.”
The foundation’s “Wings of Freedom Tour” travels the nation as “a flying tribute to the flight crews who flew them.” The group had recently also offered tours and flights at Trenton Mercer Airport in September, according to LevittownNow.
There are very few B-17’s still flying. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said there are only 18 registered with the FAA.
“Right now my heart really goes out to the families who are waiting,” Gov. Ned Lamont said at a press conference two hours after the crash. “We’re going to give them the best information we can as soon as we can in an honest way. But remember, these are husbands and wives and brothers and sisters and children, and all members of our Connecticut family.”
By late afternoon Wednesday, reports on the people who had been on board the plane began to be released. The Connecticut National Guard said one of the members of the Air National Guard was on board, and the person was being treated at Hartford Hospital.
The Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company said in a Facebook post two of its firefighters were also on board, and that both were hospitalized.
Blumenthal said he spoke to National Transportation Safety Board officials, who expected to have a team of eight investigators at the airport by the afternoon.
The FBI, FAA, NTSB, Department of Homeland Security and Connecticut State Police are all participating in the investigation.
The Connecticut National Guard was one of many agencies providing resources as the plane’s fuel burned into a huge plume of smoke on the runway.
“We’re closely monitoring the situation as the investigation proceeds,” said Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, The Adjutant General of the Connecticut National Guard. “We commend the swift actions of our Guardsmen in supporting the mutual aid response and are grateful for the well-being of our member on the flight. Our hearts are with all of those affected by the tragic accident that took place today.”
After the crash, all flights to and from Bradley were canceled and diverted to other airports.
Dillon said passengers aboard flights operated by groups like the Collings Foundation are not screened by the TSA. Their flights operate under agreements with airports as sightseeing and tourism programs, he said.
Health and environmental officials were urging people to avoid contact with the Farmington River because of potential contamination from firefighting foam used to douse the fire after the crash.
The foam is highly effective at extinguishing chemical fires, but contains high levels of PFAS, the chemicals currently under review by state officials for their potential public health impacts.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said there are also concerns about potential environmental impacts of fuel and glycol. DEEP said it was focusing particularly on Rainbow Brook, a smaller waterway that runs alongside the airport.
Details on the health advisory are available at www.townofwindsorct.com.