WINDSOR LOCKS, CT — In a preliminary report issued Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said the pilot of the B-17 that crashed at Bradley International Airport Oct. 2 was cleared to return for an emergency landing when it struck approach lighting 1,000 feet out from the main runway and began its collision course with a de-icing building nearby.
The report provides a detailed description of the events of the crash, but as a preliminary report it does not make a determination of a cause.
Seven people died in the crash and seven more were injured. Three crew and 10 passengers were aboard the plane for a sightseeing and educational flight hosted by the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation. An airport employee working at the deicing facility was also injured.
“Witness statements and airport surveillance video confirmed that the airplane struck approach lights about 1,000 ft prior to the runway, then contacted the ground about 500 ft prior to the runway before reaching runway 6. It then veered right off the runway before colliding with vehicles and a deicing fluid tank about 1,100 ft right of the center of the runway threshold,” the report says.
The NTSB said the B-17G had received an annual inspection in January and its most recent progressive inspection — required after 100 hours of service from the annual inspection — was completed Sept. 23, just two weeks before the crash.
The pilot and co-pilot, Ernest McCauley, 75, of Long Beach, Calif. and Michael Foster, 71, of Jacksonville, Fla., both died. As of the January inspection, McCauley had logged 14,500 total hours of flight time and Foster had 22,000 hours.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told reporters Tuesday that the preliminary report is intended only to summarize the events of the crash and the initial investigation.
“I’ve been told [by] the NTSB that the report itself, the final report, is probably going to be done in about a year,” Blumenthal said. “The essence of this [preliminary] report is that it rules out nothing and it draws no conclusions. It makes no recommendations.”
The Collings Foundation operated the flights under a Federal Aviation Administration program that is an alternative to commercial flight regulations. The program allows organizations to charge a fee for vintage aircraft “living history flight experiences.”
Blumenthal has asked the FAA to review that program and its safety standards.
The NTSB’s initial findings confirm much of what federal, state, and airport officials released in the hours and days after the crash.
The flight departed Bradley at 9:47 a.m., and at about 9:50 the pilot asked the air traffic control staff for clearance to return after experiencing trouble with the “No. 4 engine.” The controllers canceled the landing of an incoming flight and provided instructions for the B-17G to return. After it hit the approach lighting at about 9:53, it hit the ground 500 feet before the runway and veered off into the de-icing building.
At the time of the January inspection, engines 1, 2 and 3 had each just received a major overhaul and had zero hours of flight operation at the time that work was completed. Engine No. 4 — the one the pilot reported trouble with just after takeoff — had been operated for 838.2 hours since its last major overhaul.
Parts of the plane were recovered from around the area, including broken-off pieces of propeller blades. The No. 4 engine was recovered from the deicing building, and the wreckage of the badly-damaged and burned plane is being retained for the investigation.
The investigation immediately focused on the fuel used for the plane, and the fueling equipment was quarantined for the review, the report says.
“Following the accident, the fuel truck used to service the airplane was quarantined and subsequent testing revealed no anomalies of the truck’s equipment or fuel supply. Additionally, none of the airplanes serviced with fuel from the truck before or after the accident airplane, including another airplane operated by the Collings Foundation, reported any anomalies,” it says.