The World War-II-era B-17 bomber that crashed this morning in Connecticut was the same one that crashed during the 1987 Beaver County Air Show.
Officials reported seven dead and others injured at Bradley International Airport near Hartford. According to reports, the plane was one of five at the airport for the Wings of Freedom tour.
Similar to the Beaver County crash, the B-17 appeared to have been attempting to land when the crash occurred today. According to reports, the aircraft carried 13. It slid off a runway, slammed into a building and exploded in flames.
On Aug. 23, 1987, a severe crosswind caught the B-17 carrying 12 people just after touchdown at the Beaver County Airport in Chippewa Township, causing the right wing to lift and the aircraft to roll off the end of the runway. It smashed through a chain link fence, sheared off a power pole and crashed down a 100-foot ravine. Fortunately, it did not catch fire.
Greg Werking, now 78, of Ohioville didn’t witness the crash. But he later volunteered about 50 hours restoring the B-17 at Air Heritage Inc. at the Beaver County Airport.
Its landing gear had sheared off; the chin turret was smashed; the Plexiglass nose was shattered; and its bomb bay doors, fuselage, ball turret, wings and nacelles all had significant damage, according to reports. An Air Heritage volunteer aboard the aircraft suffered a broken back and has since passed, Werking said.
Werking, now retired, said he was sad to learn of today’s crash. He had worked on the bomber after finishing his job as a mechanic at USAir.
Air Heritage volunteers supplied the bulk of of the force that restored the aircraft over the next three years.
“It was a huge project,” Werking said. “Luckily, we had a lot of good volunteers.”
He recalled that USAir provided cranes to lift the aircraft from its crash site, and later provided other help, as did United Airlines and the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics.
The aircraft was named in honor of the historic Nine-O-Nine (for the last three digits of its serial number) Flying Fortress heavy bomber, which completed 140 combat missions during WWII without any crew loss.
Owned by the Collings Foundation, of Stow, Mass., the B-17 was built too late for combat, and later was used for air/sea rescues, was subject to the effects of three separate nuclear explosions in 1952, and later served as a firebomber, dropping water and borate on forest fires.
According to various reports, the B-17 also had another landing incident in 1995. It reportedly occurred during a “Salute to Veterans Tour” in Norfolk, Neb., when half of its forward landing gear did not lock, causing the plane to land on one wheel and one of its wings to drop to the ground and skid. None of the 10-person crew was injured.
The Nine-O-Nine flew out of the Beaver County Airport in December 1990. Werking wasn’t present for that either.
He recalled the restoration as bittersweet. Collings wasn’t kind to the Air Heritage volunteers, later criticizing their work, he said. And before the aircraft left Chippewa, Collings charged the volunteers to walk through their finished product.
According to a cached Collings Foundation page, the B-17 has made more than 1,200 tour stops since its Beaver County crash.
Today, Werking still volunteers Air Heritage four days a week and is helping to restore a Piper Super Cub L-21B Seneca, which served with the Italian Army until 1979.
He thinks he may be the last volunteer alive from the days of the “Nine-O-Nine” restoration. “They call me the hangar chief,” he said.