A World War II–era bomber that had frequently visited Santa Barbara as part of the nationwide Wings of Freedom Tour crashed Wednesday morning in Connecticut, killing seven of the 13 people on board.
The propeller-powered B-17 aircraft, named Nine-O-Nine, took off at 9:45 a.m. from Bradley International Airport but immediately struggled to gain altitude, according to news reports. Witnesses said they saw one of the engines start to sputter then trail smoke. The plane tried to turn around for an emergency landing but slammed into one of the airport’s equipment buildings and burst into flames. Those on board included two pilots, one attendant, and 10 passengers.
Nine-O-Nine and the Wings of Freedom Tour, hosted by The Collings Foundation, a historical aviation nonprofit based in Massachusetts, came through Santa Barbara last April, just as it had for many years prior. Members of the public could purchase tickets for 30-minute flights, and veterans were frequently invited on board as well. The identities of the Connecticut crash victims have not been released.
“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 foundation said in a statement. “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.”
Nine-O-Nine was built in 1943 and flew in the the 323rd Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, that completed 140 combat missions during World War II. The B-17 model was dubbed the “Flying Fortress” as it was outfitted with a number of heavy anti-aircraft machine guns and was notoriously difficult to shoot down. Nine-O-Nine previously crashed in a 1987 air show near Pittsburgh, injuring several people. It was hit by a stiff crosswind as it touched down, overshot the runway, and plunged down a hillside. It was later repaired.