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Preliminary Report On Plane Crash At Bradley Airport Released, Cause Yet To Be Determined

National Transportation Safety Board
This image taken from video provided by the National Transportation Safety Board shows damage from a World War II-era B-17 bomber plane that crashed Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 in Windsor Locks, Conn.

Federal investigators have yet to say what exactly caused the crash of a B-17 vintage plane at Bradley International Airport earlier this month, but a new report released Tuesday details the pilot’s account of an engine issue moments before impact.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report on the crash of the World War II-era plane on Oct. 2. The board said that the cause of the crash will only be revealed upon the completion of the investigation.

But the report does detail facts uncovered thus far, including the pilot’s communication that one  of the plane’s four engines had a “rough mag” on it. The pilot , Edward McCauley, 75 of Long Beach, Calif., asked if he could return to the airport just a few minutes after the B-17 took off at 9:50 a.m., when it was 500 feet above ground level near runway 6 at Bradley. ATC reportedly approved the pilot’s request.

“The tower controller asked about the airplane's progress to the runway and the pilot replied that they were "getting there" and on the right downwind leg,” read the report. “No further communications were received from the accident airplane.”

Seven people died, including McCauley the pilot, and another eight were injured after the B-17 lost control and crashed during an emergency landing attempt. A total of 13 people were on the plane, including three crew members and 10 patrons who paid to take a tour. The two others injured were a first responder and a worker on the ground.

All four engines were recovered by federal investigators. The NTSB reported that engines No. 1 and 2 were found partially attached to the left wing of the aircraft. No. 3 was found on top of a de-icing tank, and No. 4 was recovered inside the de-icing building with its three blades in the “feather position.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) commented on the release of the preliminary report Tuesday. While he said he wasn’t expecting it to make any conclusions or recommendations, there was one thing outlined in the report that caught the senator’s eye. It was a detail about the moment before the plane touched down short of runway 6.

“The focus of the NTSB has to be on engines 3 and 4 and why the right wing of the plane -- where those engines were -- in fact was lower than the other and that’s the wing that collided with the approach lights,” Blumenthal said.

According to the report, The B-17 struck an approach light stanchion about 1,000 feet away from the runway. The plane landed short of runway 6, eventually colliding with vehicles located on the ground and a de-icing facility.

Blumenthal also wants to know why the plane’s “100-hour inspection” that was completed on Sept. 23 was done about 168 hours after Blumenthal said it should’ve been done.  

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber was owned by the Collings Foundation of Stow, Mass. It was one of five World War II aircraft that arrived at Bradley International Airport two days before the crash.

Ultimately, the B-17 was supposed to end up about 100 miles away to be displayed by the Collings Foundation.

Blumenthal was on the scene shortly after the Oct. 2 crash and he immediately raised concerns about the old aircraft being in the sky.

“The tragedy that happened here may be a source of lessons for others who are still flying these B-17s,” Blumenthal said. “It’s a vintage airplane and it needs to be properly maintained.”

Blumenthal said that the B-17 was one of 18 in the country registered with the FAA to be flight-worthy, but he suggested it might be time for the planes to be grounded in museums.

But, at the time, Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board who’s leading a team of federal investigators into determining the cause of the crash, wouldn’t make an immediate judgment.

“What I will say is that, the NTSB – if they feel that there is a safety concern with the B17s or operations in general such as this -- we will issue urgent safety recommendations to try to address that safety issue,” Homendy said.

In the report, the NTSB said that the wreckage has been retained for further examination.

When it comes to the release of a final report, Sen. Blumenthal said he’s been told by the NTSB that it won’t be ready for about a year.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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