Retired Navy pilot from Jacksonville among those killed in B-17 crash

Former police officer, insurance analyst among B-17 victims

By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press, Maggie Lorenz - Multi-media journalist

HARTFORD, Conn. - The names of the 10 passengers and three crew members aboard a B-17 bomber that crashed at a Connecticut airport have not been released officially, but News4Jax has learned one of the victims was a former Navy and commercial pilot from Jacksonville.

Mike Foster, a retired Navy captain who flew commercially for Northwest, was well-known for traveling to air shows and helping with the demonstrations of the World War II-era plane.

He was also heavily involved with the Collings Foundation, an educational group that brought its Wings of Freedom vintage aircraft display, including the retired, civilian-registered plane, to Bradley International Airport this week.

The plane with 13 people on board crashed and burned after experiencing mechanical trouble on takeoff Wednesday morning. Some of the passengers were critically injured.

Foster, known by his call sign "Pod" to many who knew him, was well-loved among the local pilot and military community. After his career in the Navy, Foster flew commercially for Northwest Airlines. His friends who spoke with News4Jax said he's going to be greatly missed.

"He was just one of these guys that was always helpful. He was always willing to do pretty much anything that you wanted," said Michael Amble, a local pilot and FAA mechanic.

Amble said Foster gave him his first aerobatic lesson and the two stayed close for years. One time, Amble said, Foster came to rescue him when he had to make an emergency landing in Bryceville.

"He was one of my best friends ever of all time," said Stanley Grokulsky, who got hired by Northwest Airlines in the 1980s, around the same time as Foster. 

The two used to share family barbecues and were friends for more than 35 years. Grokulsky said his friend was very involved traveling air shows and demonstrations of the B-17 World War II-era plane.

He described Foster as outgoing and friendly and very involved with the Jacksonville Association of Naval Aviators. 

"I'm just gonna miss him," Grokulsky added. "I think everyone is really, really, really depressed and upset about this accident happening."

A former police officer and an insurance analyst were also among the seven people killed in the crash, officials and relatives said Thursday.

Gary Mazzone, 60, of East Windsor, who was a history and military buff, died in the crash, according to his son, Daniel Mazzone. He didn’t know of his father’s plans to ride the B-17, he said, but knew why he would be interested.

“I think he just wanted to see what it was like to be in the back of a B-17,” Daniel Mazzone said. “He loved World War II. He loved people who served this country in any capacity.“

Mazzone, a father of three children and two stepdaughters, retired in January as a prosecutor’s office inspector and previously was a Vernon police officer for 22 years.

“We’re all very sad ... and we’re very sad for his family,” Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said. “He was a good investigator. He was a good inspector. And he was a very good and helpful colleague.”

The wife of Robert Riddell, an insurance company analyst from East Granby, said in a Facebook post that her husband was among those killed. Robert Riddell had posted a photo from inside the plane just before takeoff.

“Words cannot express how devastated I am. Rob was the best person I’ve ever known. ... I will miss him beyond words can ever express. He loved his children more than anyone could know and the new grandson was the apple of his eye,” Debra Riddell wrote.

Two firefighters from Simsbury were aboard the plane and are recovering, the fire department said.

Also among the injured passengers was a member of the Connecticut Air National Guard, officials said.

Some lives were likely saved by the efforts of people, including someone who raced to help the victims and people on the plane who helped others escape the fire by opening a hatch, state Public Safety Commissioner James Rovella said at a news conference late Wednesday.

“You’re going to hear about some heroic efforts from some of the individuals that were in and around that plane,” he said.

Bridgeport Hospital officials said that one survivor who arrived in serious condition was upgraded Thursday to fair condition and that two others there were still in fair condition. All three suffered burns and broken bones.

The vintage bomber -- also known as a Flying Fortress, one of the most celebrated Allied planes of World War II -- was used to take history buffs and aircraft enthusiasts on short flights, during which they could get up and walk around the loud and windy interior.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate.

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Associated Press writer Jennifer McDermott in Providence contributed to this report.

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