Air National Guardsman aboard crashed B-17 helped save lives

7 of 13 aboard were killed

By Jason Hanna, Mirna Alsharif and Steve Almasy, CNN

(CNN) - The command chief for an Air National Guard wing is being credited for saving lives after a World War II-era B-17 bomber crashed at an airport near Hartford, Connecticut.

Chief Master Sgt. James Traficante, 54, was injured in the crash that killed seven people and injured five others aboard the almost 75-year-old plane and one person on the ground.

Despite injuries that state official James Rovella said included broken limbs and a collarbone injury, Traficante opened a hatch on the B-17 and other passengers escaped.

"I think he'll have a great story," Rovella said at a Thursday news conference.

The airman had brought his military flame-retardant flight gloves with him on the flight, the National Guard said in a news release. He used the gloves while he opened the hatch, the Guard said.

According to the website of the 103rd Air Wing, Traficante joined the Air Force in 1984 and his deployments included Desert Shield/Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve.

He came to the 103rd, based at Bradley International Airport, in 2014.

 

Two of the three-member flight crew presumed dead

 

Pilots Ernest McCauley, 75, and Michael Foster, 71, are presumed dead, and flight engineer Mitchell Melton survived with injuries, state officials said.

Passengers Gary Mazzone, 66; James Roberts, 48; Robert Riddell, 59; and Robert Rubner, 64, were listed by the state as presumed dead, although people who knew Mazzone and Riddell said they had been killed.

David Broderick, 56, died, the state said.

The injured included 28-year-old Andrew Sullivan, who worked at the airport.

 

Bomber tried an emergency landing

 

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress -- operated by a group that sells demonstration flights to the public -- crashed Wednesday morning as the crew tried to make an emergency landing at north of Hartford, killing seven of the 13 people aboard, officials said.

The pilots had reported an issue with the plane just minutes after takeoff from Bradley, and had circled back to try to land, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating.

The plane, carrying three crew members and 10 passengers, struck a post while approaching the runway and veered, eventually crashing into a de-icing facility at the airport, leaving the aircraft in flames, officials said.

 

One victim had just posted pictures of the plane

 

Riddell, of East Granbury, Connecticut, took photos of the plane -- inside and outside -- and posted them to social media shortly before the crash.

His wife, Debra Riddell, mourned her husband in a public Facebook post Wednesday night.

"It's been a long and tragic day. Words cannot express how devastated I am," she wrote. "At this point, all survivors have been identified. Rob was not one of them."

"He was brilliant, loving, funny, reliable, compassionate and the best man I've ever known. ... My heart goes out to the other people that lost loved ones but especially the people who survived this crash," the post continued.

Mazzone was a retired law enforcement officer, said Vernon police Capt. John Kelley.

Mazzone was a Vernon police captain from 1976 to 1998, and was an inspector with the state Division of Criminal Justice until retiring in January, Kelley said.

"He did a lot of good for the community and for the state at large," including by supporting Special Olympics Connecticut, Kelley said.

Of the six survivors, four still were in hospitals Thursday afternoon -- one at Hartford Hospital, and three at Bridgeport Hospital, officials said.

 

Pilot asked to return to the airport, audio indicates

 

The plane belonged to the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit that planned to display the B-17 and other vintage aircraft at Bradley as part of a "Wings of Freedom Tour" through Thursday. Attendees could buy various experiences aboard the planes, including demonstration flights, the foundation's website says.

This particular B-17 was accepted into service in April 1945 -- too late for World War II combat, though it was used for air-sea rescue duties, according to the Aviation Geek Club blog.

The plane took off at 9:45 a.m. ET. About five minutes later, the crew reported an issue with the plane and asked to return, NTSB member Jennifer Homendy told reporters.

"N93012 would like to return to the field," one pilot told air traffic control, according to audio recorded by the website LiveATC.net.

"What is the reason for coming back?" the controller asked.

"You got No. 4 engine. We'd like to return, and blow it out," another pilot in the aircraft said.

A pilot said he needed to land immediately, and the control tower diverted other jets that were about to land, the recording indicates.

The plane hit the instrument landing system posts and veered to the right. It crossed a grassy area, then a taxiway, and ran into the de-icing facility, Homendy said.

NTSB investigators expect to issue a preliminary report about the crash in about 10 days, and finish the investigation within 18 months, Homendy said.

The crash closed Bradley for a few hours, forcing 39 flight cancellations and 19 delays, said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority.

CNN's Rebekah Riess, Paul P. Murphy, Aaron Cooper, Kristina Sgueglia, Rob Frehse, Carma Hassan, Holly Yan, Phil Gast, and Evan Simko-Bednarski contributed to this report.

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