7 Dead After Vintage WWII Bomber Crashes and Erupts Into 'Ball Of Fire' at Connecticut Airport
One of the deceased has been identified by family members as Robert Riddell, a 59-year-old insurance analyst from East Granby
Seven people are dead after a World War II-era bomber crashed on Wednesday at a Connecticut airport, where it was intended to be used in flights and tour shows, PEOPLE confirms.
Seven other people were injured when the Collings Foundation World War II aircraft crashed at Bradley International Airport around 9:50 a.m., a Connecticut State Police spokesperson tells PEOPLE. Ten people on the plane were passengers and three were crew members.
All of the deceased were on the plane and one of the injured people was a civilian in a maintenance facility, according to CNN.
“The vintage World War II airplane was in the air approximately five minutes when it experienced problems and crashed into a de-icing facility at Bradley, bursting into flames,” state police said in a statement to PEOPLE.
Connecticut Airport Authority executive director Kevin Dillon said during a recent news briefing that the plane took off on runway six around 9:45 a.m. and “we did observe that the aircraft was not gaining altitude.”
He said the crew on board reported a problem with the plane and tried to return to the runway, circling around the airport, “but unfortunately … the aircraft obviously lost control,” he said.
Authorities are not releasing the names of the victims, the spokesperson says. However, family members identified 59-year-old Robert Riddell, an insurance analyst from East Granby, as one of the people killed in the crash. His wife Debra confirmed the death to WABC.
“Rob was the best person I’ve ever known. He was my soulmate. I will miss him beyond words can ever express,” Debra said in a statement to the station. “The world lost an amazing person today. My heart goes out to the other people that lost loved ones but especially the people who survived this crash. Thank you for your support and love.”
In the days before the flight, Riddell shared his excitement in a Facebook post, writing, “If the weather allows, I’ll be taking a flight in a WWII B17 Flying Fortress this Wednesday.”
Photos and videos shared on social media showed a large plume of smoke and flames where the plane crashed. The Federal Aviation Administration said the B-17 plane was a “civilian registered aircraft” and not flown by the military.
The spokesperson says it is unclear what caused the crash. A number of agencies are participating in the investigation, including the Connecticut Airport Authority, National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security, according to the police statement.
One witness, Brian Hamer, told NBC News that he was less than a mile away from the airport when he saw the unusual plane flying with smoke coming from the back of the aircraft.
“Then we heard all the rumbling and the thunder, and all the smoke comes up and we kind of figured it wasn’t good,” he said.
Another witness, Antonio Arreguin, heard the explosion and felt the heat from the fire while parked 250 yards from the crash site.
“In front of me, I see this big ball of orange fire, and I knew something happened,” Arreguin told NBC News. “The ball of fire was very big.”
Collings Foundation officials are cooperating with the investigation, according to a spokesperson for the non-profit educational foundation.
“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,” Collings officials said in a statement to PEOPLE.
“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.”
The airport was briefly closed in the wake of the crash but has since been reopened, officials said on Twitter.