About 100 fans of vintage military airplanes got a close-up look for five planes at McClellan-Palomar airport in Carlsbad.
Plane enthusiasts greeted the ill-fated B-17 as it landed at McClellan-Palomar Airport in May 2019. Photo by Chris Stone

The pilot of a vintage plane failed to take steps that could have averted a fiery 2019 crash landing near Hartford, Connecticut, that killed seven people, federal investigators said on Tuesday.

The World War II-era B-17G bomber was part of an aerial convoy that made stops at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad and Ramona Airport in May 2019, just a few months prior to the crash.

A report by the National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in Windsor Locks on pilot error, which it said compounded maintenance failures and insufficient regulatory oversight.

“Flightpath data indicated that during the return to the airport the landing gear was extended prematurely, adding drag to an airplane that had lost some engine power,” the NTSB said.

In its attempt to return to Bradley International Airport during the “living history” flight experience on Oct. 2, 2019, the plane struck stanchions short of the runway and careened across a grassy area and a taxiway before striking a de-icing facility.

The vintage aircraft, nicknamed “Nine-O-Nine,” likely could have landed safely if the pilot had kept the landing gear retracted and maintained more airspeed until the runway was within reach, the NTSB said.

Two of the plane’s four engines lost some power during the flight which lasted barely more than five minutes, the NTSB said.

All seven of those who died were aboard the plane, one of only 18 B-17 aircraft still operating in the United States, authorities said. The crash also injured seven people, including a worker on the ground.

NTSB investigators also blamed the pilot for inadequately maintaining the aircraft whose partial loss of power in two engines contributed to the crash.

The plane was operated by the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation, which preserves and displays automotive and aviation-related history.

The pilot was the maintenance director at the foundation, which had an ineffective voluntary safety management system in place that failed to identify and mitigate numerous hazards, the NTSB said.

It also cited ineffective federal oversight of the foundation as a contributing factor.

The Wings of Freedom tour came to Carlsbad May 2-5, 2019 and continued to Ramona on May 6-8. In 2016, the B-17 was displayed at an earlier tour stop at El Cajon’s Gillespie Field.

— Reuters contributed to this article

Show comments