Victims, survivors of B-17 plane crash identified
By CHRISTINE DEMPSEY, DAVID OWENS AND EMILY BRINDLEY | The Hartford Courant | Published: October 3, 2019
HARTFORD, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — At a Thursday afternoon press conference, the day after the fiery crash of a B-17 bomber at Bradley International Airport, state police released the names of the victims.
The one person confirmed dead from the crash is 56-year-old passenger David Broderick of West Springfield, Mass.
An additional six people are presumed dead:
- 75-year-old pilot Ernest McCauley of Long Beach, Calif.
- 71-year-old co-pilot Michael Foster of Jacksonville, Fla.
- 66-year-old passenger Gary Mazzone of Broad Brook
- 48-year-old passenger James Robert of Ludlow, Mass.
- 59-year-old passenger Robert Riddell of East Granby
- 64-year-old passenger Robert Rubner of Tolland
The seven people injured in the crash were:
- 36-year-old passenger Andy Barrett of South Hadley, Mass.
- 62-year-old passenger Linda Schmidt of Suffield
- 62-year-old passenger Tom Schmidt of Suffield
- 48-year-old passenger Joseph "JT" Huber of the Tarriffville section of Simsbury
- 54-year-old passenger James Traficante of Simsbury
- 34-year-old flight engineer Mitchell Melton of Dalehart, Texas
- 28-year-old airport personnel Andrew Sullivan of Enfield
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the plane crash, and officials offered an update at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
Hartford Hospital officials said at a press conference earlier on Thursday that the hospital received six of those injured in the crash. By Wednesday evening, three of the patients had been released, officials said. Two others were transferred to the Connecticut Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital, and one person was still at Hartford Hospital as of Thursday afternoon.
Although the names of all involved have now been released, details are still emerging about those people's lives. Several of the families and friends of the crash victims have told the Courant about their loved ones.
'A very experienced pilot and mechanic'
Ernest McCauley, 75, had 7,300 hours of flight time on the B-17, according to NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy. That made McCauley the most experienced B-17 pilot in the nation.
He'd been flying for Wings of Freedom for 20 years, Homendy said, and was also the safety officer for the Collings Foundation, which runs Wings of Freedom tours on the historic planes.
Reaction to McCauley's death was swift in the tight-knit community that flies vintage aircraft.
"An organization like this is even tighter" than the wider community of pilots, said Eric Whyte, a fellow Wings of Freedom Tour pilot and a friend and protégé of McCauley's.
Whyte said in a social media post that McCauley was a former football player "who took pride in being a curmudgeon, liked to laugh at millennials but [had] a soft spot for animals. Especially dogs. He would often sneak away from the tour and visit animal shelters to walk the dogs since being on the road he couldn't have one of his own."
And McCauley had a rule, Whyte said: "no selfies in the cockpit."
Whyte said he and McCauley had a "friendly banter about whose airplane was better. He was a B-17 guy I was a B-24 ... As a very experienced pilot and mechanic, I often picked his brain about the airplanes and he was happy to help ... The first time I flew with him I couldn't get the parking brake to release. We had clearance to taxi and no matter what I couldn't get the parking brake off. Mac looked over and laughed and said 'You know we aren't going anywhere until you get that figured out.' Both of us were laughing as I finally got it to release."
As Whyte wished his friend godspeed, he said it's been a tough day.
"Blue Skies and tailwinds guys," Whyte said. "It was an honor to fly with you."
'The best man I've ever known'
Robert Riddell's wife Debra posted about her husband on Facebook.
"Rob was the best person I've ever known," she wrote. "He was my soul mate I will miss him beyond words can ever express. He loved his children more than anyone could know and the new grandson was the apple of his eye. He embraced my daughter and grandchildren and loved them as his own."
"He was brilliant, loving, funny, reliable, compassionate and the best man I've ever known. The world lost an amazing person today."
Two Simsbury firefighters
James Traficante, 54, is a five-year member of the Simsbury Volunteer Fire Department and a chief master sergeant in the Connecticut Air National Guard.
He was a passenger on the burning plane and was able to open a hatch without burning his hands because he had brought his military-issued, flame retardant flight gloves with him, the Guard said Thursday.
Using the gloves, he opened the hatch and allowed other passengers to get out, they said. The Air National Guard didn't initially name Traficante in a news release but said he is the command chief for the 103rd Airlift Wing.
Traficante was injured – sources said he suffered at least one broken arm and a broken collarbone in the crash – and was treated at Hartford Hospital. He was discharged later in the day, the Guard said.
As an aircrew member, Traficante has training and experience in handling aircraft emergencies, the release said.
"The Connecticut National Guard is thankful that our Airman on board the aircraft is safe and I ask that you respect his and his family's privacy as he recovers," said Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, the Guard's Adjutant General.
Traficante was on board with another member of the Simsbury Volunteer Fire Department, 48-year-old Joseph "JT" Huber.
Fire Marshal and Deputy Chief Kevin Kowalski said that Huber has been with the fire department for nearly 15 years.
"They're good guys, they're part of our family and we're going to help them through this," Kowalski said.
He said the department is working on putting together some type of support for Huber and Traficante, depending on what they and their families need.
"We're just going to try to help them," Kowalski said. "Our folks with be working with the family to make sure that they're all set."
'An excellent detective, an excellent inspector'
Gary Mazzone, 66, who retired nine months ago after a 42-year career in law enforcement, was among those who died in the crash. He most recently was a police inspector in the Litchfield State's Attorney's office.
"I was really worried about him retiring," said his son Brian Mazzone, an English teacher at Enfield High School and the football coach at Stafford High. "I thought he'd be bored out of his mind."
But he was never bored. "He was so social. He stayed in touch with his friends. He watched my boys every Wednesday. He was doing a ton of hunting and fishing. He was really hunting and fishing everyday."
And Mazzone was also working wonders with his vast array of handyman skills, helping his daughter Maureen, who'd just bought a house, and building a fort with his grandson's Brody, 8, and Brock, 6. He was also a regular at his grandsons' flag football games and other sporting events. Mazzone also built a home in the Adirondack mountains that he and his wife Joan would regularly visit.
Brian Mazzone said his father always wanted to be a history teacher. He recalled family vacations to the Freedom Trail in Boston and to the museums in Washington, D.C. "He loved history and he really loves museums and historical events," he said.
Boarding the historic B-17 on Wednesday was part of that passion for history, Brian Mazzone said.
Jack Bannan, a fellow inspector, said Mazzone was looking forward to flying on the bomber and had been trying to recruit friends to join him.
"He was psyched, he was pumped," Bannan said. "It was kind of a bucket list thing for him. He talked about doing it long before this week, about doing something like this. And when the opportunity presented, he jumped on it."
Former Litchfield State's Attorney David Shepack said he got to know Mazzone when he was transferred to his office to assist with the prosecutions related to the Maryann Measles homicide. Mazzone, as an inspector, lined up witnesses, marshaled evidence, helped with witness interviews, served subpoenas and conducted his own investigations.
"He was an excellent detective, an excellent inspector, a real student of human nature," Shepack said.
"He could connect with anybody, anywhere," Bannan said. "In our business that's really important. He really cared about people, good guys, bad guys, witnesses, victims. He cared about everyone. That's what gave him the ability to be as good a cop as he was."
Mazzone was also famous – infamous to some – for his practical jokes. Bannan said Mazzone called him pretending to be from the company that was renting chairs to him for his wedding. "He calls me up in a fake voice, like three or four days before my wedding," Bannan recalled. "'This is Bill from Acme Chair Rental and we have a bit of a problem.' Basically he's saying they've got to double the price for me." Bannan said Mazzone completely snowed him. "I'm saying I've got a contact and I'm getting all spun up," Bannan said. Mazzone, in a phony voice responds, "Come on Mr. Bannan, you've got to be reasonable. He just kept going and I was in the stratosphere."
Brian Mazzone said his father had a regular repertoire of jokes and pranks. "He was always the life of the party," he said. "Honestly, I've met very few people in my life who didn't like my dad. If you didn't like my dad, you were probably a jerk."
Brian Mazzone said his father studied forestry in college and loved the outdoors.
Fellow police officers weren't immune to his pranks, said Chris Hammick, a Vernon dispatcher who used to be an officer and the police union president.
"He had this way of calling you on a Friday afternoon for something completely innocuous and say, 'Could you see me in my office Monday morning?' And you'd stew about it all weekend."
Come Monday morning, when the officer walked into his office, he said, "He would just smile. He knew he was getting under your skin."
Mazzone joined the Vernon police department 1976 and retired in 1998 at the rank of captain. He then went to work as a state inspector. He retired from that job in January.
Although retired from Vernon, he remained active with the department's efforts to aid Special Olympics, Vernon Chief James Kenny said.
Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a judicial branch communications manager who covered Vernon police for the Journal Inquirer in the 1980s when Mazzone was an officer there, said he was "just a super guy."
"He was a really good cop. He was the total package. He was smart. He was the whole package."
She just talked to him last week, she said.
"He had heard 'Help me Rhonda' on the radio. He called me. He asked me about my daughter. 'How's she doing? What's she up to?' He was upbeat and funny...He cared a lot for people. His children were always so important to him."
(c)2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Visit The Hartford Courant at www.courant.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
HARTFORD, Conn. — An airman with the Connecticut National Guard who was aboard a B-17 bomber that crashed at an airport helped other passengers escape the flames by using his fire-resistant gloves to open a hatch, officials said Thursday.
Seven people died when the plane with 13 people on board crashed, including an insurance analyst and a former police officer with an affinity for World War II history.
The airman has training in handling emergencies on aircraft and had brought his military-issued gloves on the flight, according to the Guard. The airman was treated at a hospital and has been recovering at home. His name was not released.
“The Connecticut National Guard is thankful that our airman on board the aircraft is safe,” said Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, adjutant general of the Connecticut National Guard. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragic accident.”
The plane crashed and burned after experiencing mechanical trouble on takeoff Wednesday morning from Bradley International Airport. Some of the survivors were critically injured.
Among the dead were the two pilots, officials said Thursday.
The pilot was Ernest McCauley, 75, of Long Beach, California, and the co-pilot was Michael Foster, 71, of Jacksonville, Florida, according to the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
Board member Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference Thursday that McCauley had flown with the foundation that owned the plane for over 20 years and had flown the bombers for 7,300 hours.
The flight engineer Mitchell Melton, 34, of Dalhart, Texas, survived with injuries.
Also among those killed was Gary Mazzone, 60, of East Windsor, who was a history and military buff, according to his son, Daniel Mazzone. He didn’t know of his father’s plans to ride the B-17, he said, but knew why he would be interested.
“I think he just wanted to see what it was like to be in the back of a B-17,” Daniel Mazzone said. “He loved World War II. He loved people who served this country in any capacity.”
Mazzone, a father of three children and two stepdaughters, retired in January as a prosecutor’s office inspector and previously was a Vernon police officer for 22 years.
“We’re all very sad ... and we’re very sad for his family,” Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said. “He was a good investigator. He was a good inspector. And he was a very good and helpful colleague.”
The wife of Robert Riddell, an insurance company analyst from East Granby, Connecticut, said in a Facebook post that her husband was among those killed. Robert Riddell had posted a photo from inside the plane just before takeoff.
“Words cannot express how devastated I am. Rob was the best person I’ve ever known. ... I will miss him beyond words can ever express. He loved his children more than anyone could know and the new grandson was the apple of his eye,” Debra Riddell wrote.
The other passengers killed in the flight were James Roberts, 48, of Ludlow, Massachusetts; David Broderick, 56, of West Springfield, Massachusetts; and Robert Rubner, 64, of Tolland, Connecticut.
Five other passengers on the plane were injured along with Andrew Sullivan, 28, an airport employee who was on the ground near the site of the accident.
Bridgeport Hospital officials said that one survivor who arrived in serious condition was upgraded Thursday to fair condition, and that two others there were still in fair condition. All three suffered burns and broken bones.
One patient injured in the crash remained at Hartford Hospital, officials said.
The retired, civilian-registered plane was associated with the Collings Foundation, an educational group that brought its Wings of Freedom vintage aircraft display to the airport this week, officials said.
The vintage bomber — also known as a Flying Fortress, one of the most celebrated Allied planes of World War II — was used to take history buffs and aircraft enthusiasts on short flights, during which they could get up and walk around the loud and windy interior.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate.
Associated Press writer Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.