Pilot Signaled Engine Trouble Before Connecticut Crash

Air traffic control transmissions reviewed by the NBC10 Boston Investigators show the pilot of the B-17 requested permission to return to Bradley International Airport as the plane struggled to climb

The pilot behind the controls of a WWII-era bomber that crashed in Connecticut Wednesday told air traffic controllers he was experiencing a problem with one of the plane’s engines shortly after takeoff.

The issue was evident within moments, according to air traffic control transmissions, obtained from and reviewed by the NBC10 Boston Investigators, which show the pilot requested permission to return to Bradley International Airport as the plane struggled to climb.

“What's the reason for coming back?” a controller asked.

“The number four engine,” the pilot replied. “We’d like to return and blow it out.”

The plane, a vintage B-17 bomber registered to the Collings Foundation of Stow, Massachusetts, was at Bradley Airport for the "Wings of Freedom Tour" sponsored by the Collings Foundation.

Records of past flights by the aircraft show the B-17 is usually in the air for 20 or 30 minutes while taking passengers on joy rides in the historic craft. But the plane was aloft for just about five minutes Wednesday before reversing its course, touching down again, sliding off a runway and crashing into a de-icing facility at the airport, leaving at least seven people dead.

As the plane approached, air traffic controllers rerouted other aircraft and cleared Runway 6.

“You can proceed onto the downwind for Runway 6,” a controller radioed to the bomber pilot. “And you said you need an immediate landing?”

“When you get a chance, yeah,” the pilot replied.

“You can proceed however necessary for Runway 6,” the controller said.

A little more than a minute later, a dispatcher at the tower asked for an update.

“We’re getting there,” the pilot replied, trailing off into an inaudible sound.

It was apparently the last transmission captured from the pilot, who touched down less than two minutes later, sending emergency responders speeding toward the scene.

“Bradley tower to all responding vehicles no matter where you are: Proceed to the craft via the quickest way available,” a controller radioed at about 9:53 a.m.

Philip Greenspun, an aviation expert from MIT, reviewed the transmissions and thought it sounded like the plane had to land without one of its engines operating.

“But if they are flying a B-17, they need specific training before getting their certification,” Greenspun said. “Those pilots have gone through all kinds of simulations for those types of situations.”

Greenspun added that engine trouble is common at the beginning of a flight because takeoff is the most stressful time on the machinery.

Thirteen people were onboard the plane, including 10 passengers and three crew members, according to Windsor Locks First Selectman Chris Kervick.

Officials from the Simsbury Fire Department said two members of their department were on the plane and are being treated for injuries.

The FBI, FAA and NTSB are investigating the Bradley plane crash. State Police are assisting the NTSB with crash reconstruction.

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