Historic aircraft crash claims lives


Photo by David Lawrence, courtesy of the Collings Foundation

The historic Nine O Nine Flying Fortress fatally crashed in early October of 2019.

Rebekah Waldron, North Campus Editor

The Collings Foundation Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Nine O Nine crashed in early October, during an attempted emergency landing at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. It was one of only nine World War II era B-17 aircraft still flying in the United States. NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy arrived on the scene of the crash to act as the representative for the investigative team. She describes it as a “significant tragedy.” According to a preliminary report released by the NTSB, the plane was witnessed to have two of the four engines being worked on prior to take-off. The flight left the ground from runway six for travel around 9:45 a.m. Five minutes later, the flight crew reported an issue with the plane and requested an emergency landing back onto runway six.

According to radio transmissions between the airplane and the tower, the pilot was reporting a problem with the number four engine. The tower diverted other aircraft on approach to Bradley so that the B-17 could land.  As it touched down, the airplane “impacted the instrument landing system stanchions, veered to the right, over a grassy area, over the taxiway and impacted the de-icing facility,” Homendy said. The impact with the de-icing facility resulted in large clouds of black smoke and the crash site was then engulfed in flames. Laura Nolan, an eye-witness to the tragedy, was driving on a local road near the airfield when the emergency landing turned fatal. “He was treetop level when I saw him,” says Nolan, “and one of the engines wasn’t spinning.”

The bomber was owned by The Collings Foundation, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that restores World War II-era aircraft. The historic aircraft travelled the country for people to be able to see and tour them. The Bradley stop was the organization’s third in Connecticut in the past month. The foundation has suspended flight operations and the Wings of Freedom Tour for the remainder of the 2019 season and is in the process of issuing refunds for those who had reserved flights through December, according to a statement released about the incident on the group’s website.

The historic aircraft was built in 1944 and restored by the Collings Foundation in 1986. Seven lives were claimed during the impact, as well as seven more hospitalized with injuries ranging from minor to critical. One life claimed by the tragedy included the pilot, Ernest “Mac” McCauley, from Long Beach, California. According the NTSB report, the 75-year-old pilot was “the most experienced B-17 pilot in the country with 7,300 hours spent flying the aircraft.” He also served as the organization’s safety officer.

Among the 10 passengers on the flight, two were volunteer firefighters from a local town. One of them, Chief Master Sgt. James Traficante, was a Connecticut Air National Guard member and had his military-issue flame retardant gloves on him during the flight. He used them to open the hatch, which allowed his fellow passengers to escape to safer grounds following the intense impact.