UPDATE 10/3/19 10:00 a.m. EST:
By Christine Dempsey
The Hartford Courant
A day after the fiery crash of a B-17 bomber at Bradley International Airport that killed more than a half-dozen people and injured at least seven, stories are beginning to emerge about the witnesses and victims.
There was the pilot, who calmly asked the air traffic controller for clearance for an emergency landing “when you get a chance.” There was the worker in a de-icing building who dragged passengers out of the burning World War II-era airplane. And there’s the Air National Guardsman on board who, despite a broken arm and collarbone, opened an escape hatch to get survivors off the burning vintage plane.
The survivors include two members of the Simsbury Volunteer Fire Department, the department posted on Facebook Wednesday.
“At this time both members are being treated at the hospital,” the department said. “We ask that you keep the families in your thoughts.”
There were those who didn’t make it. They include Robert Riddell of East Granby, according to his wife, Debra.
“Rob was the best person I’ve ever known,” she said in a Facebook post. “He was my soul mate 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. He embraced my daughter and grandchildren and loved them as his own.”
“He was brilliant, loving, funny, reliable, compassionate and the best man I’ve ever known. The world lost an amazing person today.”
Among the people who died is Gary Mazzone, who recently retired as an inspector in the Litchfield County judicial district after retiring as a captain at the Vernon Police Department.
Chris Hammick, who was police union president in Vernon when Mazzone was an administrator, said, “He was just a good, well-rounded guy. He knew how to have a good time. He knew how to bust your chops. He knew how to laugh and how to be a good manager.”
Mazzone was a “big practical joker,” Hammick said, who liked to play around with officers from time to time.
“He had this way of calling you on a Friday afternoon for something completely innocuous and say, ‘Could you see me in my office Monday morning?’ And you’d stew about it all weekend.”
Come Monday morning, when the officer walked into his office, he said, “He would just smile. He knew he was getting under your skin.”
Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a judicial branch communications manager who covered Vernon police for the Journal Inquirer in the ‘80s when Mazzone was an officer there, said he was “just a super guy.”
“He was a really good cop. He was the total package. He was smart. He was the whole package.”
She just talked to him last week, she said.
“He had heard ‘Help me Rhonda’ on the radio. He called me. He asked me about my daughter. ‘How’s she doing? What’s she up to?’ He was upbeat and funny…He cared a lot for people. His children were always so important to him.”
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The rare B-17 Flying Fortress, dubbed “Nine-O-Nine” has crashed and injured multiple people while attempting a landing, according to local news sources in Connecticut.
B-17G #44-83575, known as “Nine-O-Nine” and painted in the namesake as B-17G #42-31909 that served honorably in World War II, reportedly crashed at the Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks early Wednesday morning.
The airport was closed following the crash, and four individuals were rushed to the hospital, with one being transported by helicopter.
The FAA reports the WWII era plane was being flown by a civilian.
Both state police and local fire rescue first responders are at the scene making sure there are no other injuries and damage to the airport.
According to WFSB, the aircraft was owned by the Collings Foundation, which restores and flies old warbirds as living history displays.
While not the original “Nine-O-Nine” (which was scrapped after World War II without a second thought), the B-17G was built during World War II and was painted to represent the original, which flew over 140 missions and made 8 bombing raids on Berlin.
By the time the war ended, “Nine-O-Nine” was airborne for 1,129 hours and dropped 562,000 pounds of bombs. She is believed to have held an Eighth Air Force record for most missions without loss to the crews that flew her.
The Collings Foundation variant, #44-83575, flew air-sea rescue missions during the late stages of World War II and subjected to the effects of three different nuclear explosions. Following 13 years of time to allow the aircraft to be safe for sale as scrap, she was sold to a group willing to restore her.
Following restoration, #44-83575 served as a wildlife fire bomber for two decades before being sold to the Collings Foundation.
After being painted in the livery of her namesake, the second “Nine-O-Nine” had crashed in 1987 and in 1995- though this latest crash may be her last.
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