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WWII-Era Plane Crash at Conn. Airport Kills 5, Injures 9

The Hartford Courant

At least five people were killed and nine were injured when a World War II-era plane crashed at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks Wednesday morning, sources have told the Hartford Courant.

A B-17 bomber crashed shortly before 10 a.m. local time, bursting into flames and sending up a large plume of smoke that could be seen for miles. Officials said it crashed into a small building and tanks as it was trying to land.

State public safety Commissioner James Rovella would not say how many were killed. “There are fatalities,” Rovella said at a briefing at the Sheraton at Bradley Wednesday afternoon, but he added he would not disclose the number of deaths yet. Gov. Ned Lamont attended the briefing.

He confirmed there were 10 passengers and three crew members on the bomber. One person on the ground was injured when the airplane struck tanks holding deicing fluid and a small building.

The airplane was largely consumed by the fire, which was fed by the aircraft’s fuel.

The left wing and tail appear to be all that remains of the airplane.

Sources told the Courant that five people have been killed in the crash and authorities fear the number will go higher. Rescuers searching through the wreckage have not reached the front of the airplane, where the pilot and co-pilot were seated.

“I got a call from the commissioner a while ago and he said, ‘It looks pretty bad,’” Lamont said at the briefing. “And coming over here as fast as we can, we saw the fire engines and the responders and the red lights, the last of the smoke plumes … it was giving us a sense of what we were confronting.”

Lamont said officials would get information to victims’ family members as soon as possible.

“Right now, my heart really goes out to the families who are waiting,” Lamont said. “We’re going to give them the best information we can, as soon as we can in an honest way.”

Three of the victims taken to Hartford Hospital are in critical condition, said Dr. Jonathan Gates, chief of the hospital’s trauma department, in a separate news conference. Two have moderate injuries, and one was described as “minimally injured.”

The plane was one of five at the airport for the Wings of Freedom tour. The airport tweeted at 1:48 p.m. that it had reopened. The Federal Aviation Administration said it put in a ground stop for flights destined for the airport.

Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, said at a news conference that the plane took off about 9:45 a.m. and five minutes later, pilot called the tower and said he was having a problem.

“We did observe that the aircraft was not getting any altitude,” Dillon said.

It crashed into a de-icing facility and tanks containing de-icing chemicals, he said.

Laura Nolan said she saw that something was amiss as the plane came in for a landing. She was driving east on Route 20 at the time, and she saw the World War II-era plane flying unusually low.

“He was treetop level when I saw him,” Nolan said. “And one of the engines wasn’t spinning.”

As the plane passed by, Nolan said, the roar was “thunderous.”

And then, the plane crashed.

“I saw the smoke in the rearview mirror,” Nolan said. The smoke was dark black, she said.

Nolan, a former Granby paramedic, went to the airport to offer help to the first responders. She was sent away, though, and by about 11 a.m. the other waiting ambulances had been sent away as well, she said.

She saw emergency vehicles from across the region, including from the Ambulance Service of Manchester, Hartford-based American Medical Response, Pratt and Whitney Fire Department and Suffield Fire Department. Nolan said she also saw a Life Star helicopter land near the crash site.

“The amount of people that were flooding in here was ridiculous,” Nolan said.

Of the six patients who were rushed to Hartford Hospital, one was flown by Life Star helicopter, a hospital spokesperson said late Wednesday morning. The other five arrived via ground ambulance.

The airport confirmed that the plane is a Collings Foundation World War II aircraft.

The Collings Foundation did not provide details on the crash but released a statement: “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.”

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