An estimated 13,000 bombers were built during World War II. Only about nine of them are still cleared for flight. When one of them crashed at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, killing seven of its 13 passengers, the loss sent shockwaves throughout the veteran community, affecting far more than the families of the deceased.
“Just the fact that that plane crashed, I broke down and cried,” said Brad Hoopes, a member of the nonprofit Remember and Honor. “It just got worse as the day went on and you heard about fatalities, then you learned about Mac the pilot.”
According to WFSB, shortly after 75-year-old pilot Ernest MCCauley brought the B-17G down, the plane “crashed into a de-icing facility just before 10 a.m. and erupted into flames.”
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A member of the Connecticut Air National Guard was on B-17 when it crashed, and performed triage on the victims during the disaster.
The victims included:
- Ernest McCauley, 75 – Pilot, from Long Beach, CA
- Michael Foster, 71 – Co-Pilot, from Jacksonville, FL
- David Broderick, 56 – passenger from West Springfield, MA
- Gary Mazzone, 66, – passenger from Broad Brook, CT
- James Roberts, 48 – passenger from Ludlow, MA
- Robert Riddell, 59 – passenger from East Granby, CT
- Robert Rubner, 64 – passenger from Tolland, CT
Hoopes’ nonprofit organizes veteran reunions. Once a year, with the help of Jeneal McKinley and the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation, it also arranges for veterans to board and fly on WWII-era aircraft, taking off from the Northern Colorado Regional Airport, CBS reports.
The downed B-17 bomber had previously logged at least 50 successful flights, shuttling veterans and their friends around the United States prior to the crash.
Since the disaster, the Collings Foundation has suspended all flights on its 2019 Wings of Freedom Tour.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were on that flight and we will be forever grateful to the heroic efforts of the first responders at Bradley. The Collings Foundation flight team is fully cooperating with officials to determine the cause of the crash of the B-17 Flying Fortress and will comment further when details become known,” said a statement from the organization.
This isn’t the first time people have been killed or injured in recommissioned WWII aircraft. According to the Associated Press, as taken from reports from the National Transportation Safety Board, there have been 21 separate accidents involving WWII era bombers since 1982, in which 23 people have been killed.
Still, the practice likely won’t end any time soon. Jeneal McKinley has been organizing veterans flights aboard WWII aircraft for the better part of a decade, and has no intention of calling it quits.
“It’s important for our generation, and for the generations that are coming, to look at these planes and see what our boys and women went through to be able to fight these battles and win,” McKinley said.
Hoopes agrees, having seen the transformational power these events have on the veterans who attend.
“I was watching a 92-year-old being transformed back into a 19-year-old, and to me that’s what it was all about,” he said.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.