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Passengers were ejected from their seats in deadly B-17 crash at Bradley Airport, lawsuit alleges

WWII B-17 bomber crash at Bradley International Airport, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kassi Jackson/Hartford Courant/TNS)

A lawsuit has been filed against the Collins Foundation by survivors and the families of those killed in the B-17 bomber crash at Bradley International Airport last fall.

A vintage Boeing B-17 bomber took off from Bradley on the morning of Oct. 2 and crashed at the end of a runway into a building five minutes later.

The plane erupted into a fiery scene with plumes of smoke filling the airspace above it. Smoke could be seen across the Massachusetts state line from downtown Springfield.

Multiple passengers were seated on the floor of the plane while another was “seated in an office type swivel seat,” the lawsuit alleges. Passengers were never instructed on how to fasten the military-style seat buckles, which one of the crew warned not to tighten “because they would be too difficult to readjust after the flight,” according to the suit. The buckle of another passenger’s seatbelt was broken leaving him “completely unrestrained at the time of the crash,” the lawsuit alleges.

The flight’s departure was delayed by 48 minutes as the “crew struggled to start the engines,” the lawsuit states.

Shortly after takeoff that morning, the pilot of the vintage WWII-era plane signaled to air traffic control at Bradley that he sought to land.

The pilot said he had a “rough mag” on the No. 4 engine, which indicates an issue with one of the bomber’s four engines.

Unbeknownst to the passengers, the lawsuit states, the two engines on the right hand of the plan experienced roughness the day prior to the crash.

Immediately following takeoff, the crew told the passengers they could “get up and explore” the aircraft, according to the lawsuit. The passengers were told to return to their seats moments later.

“The crash and subsequent collision were violent,” the lawsuit states. “It ejected many of the passengers from where they were sitting and turned unsecured cargo into dangerous projectiles.” Multiple passengers were ejected from their seats, the lawsuit states.

There were 13 people on board at the time of the crash, including 10 passengers. Seven people, including two pilots, were killed in the crash.

The flight mechanic and four passengers were seriously injured, while one passenger and one person on the ground incurred minor injuries.

The lawsuit details injuries sustained by surviving passengers. One man was ejected from his seatbelt and briefly knocked unconscious before being able to pull himself through the debris and exit the rear hatch.

A couple on board were able to pull themselves out of the wreckage through a shattered window in the rear of the cockpit. They fell onto the deicing tank below the plane and sustained “serious and permanent injuries,” according to the lawsuit.

The plane belonged to the Collings Foundation, a non-profit based in Stow that maintains a large collection of airplanes, automobiles and tanks.

“In order to obtain technical experience and expertise, the National Transportation Safety Board made The Collings Foundation a party to the pending accident investigation,” the organization said in a statement to MassLive Tuesday. “In that role, the Foundation is prohibited, both by the Certification of Party Representative and by federal regulations, from commenting on this matter and disseminating information that is the subject of this investigation.”

The B-17 Flying Fortress first saw combat in 1941, flown by the British Royal Air Force, and its numbers grew as World War II intensified. It would become a major workhorse of the U.S. Army Air Corps, flying missions from bases in England to strike deep into the heart of Nazi Germany. As it evolved, its ability to carry more and more armaments grew, according to a history of the aircraft on the Boeing website.

The aircraft was at Bradley as part of the “Wings of Freedom” tour, among three bombers and two World War II fighter planes on display with flights available to the public.

The passengers were customers who had paid for a chance to fly in the vintage aircraft.

Boeing built close to 7,000 B-17s, while another 5,700 were built by Douglas and Lockheed.

Today, it is reported that fewer than 15 can still take to the air. And, as recently as earlier this year, nine of those were said to be in the U.S., including the one which crashed at Bradley.

The B-17 was the first aircraft assigned to Westover when the airbase was built in the early 1940s.

In 1946, a B-17 crash on Mount Tom killed 25 people, including Coast Guard and Air Corps servicemen returning home from duty in World War II. The crash occurred at about 10:20 p.m. on July 9, 1946, as the B-17, en route from Goosebay, Labrador, was circling in preparation to land at Westover. It slammed into the southeastern slope of the mountain at about 900 feet elevation, just above the Mountain Park amusement park. The bomber burst into flames and began breaking apart as it slid along a boulder field before dropping into the ravine of the abandoned summit railway which had taken tourists up the mountain in the 19th century.


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