“We owe you folks a debt of gratitude. These are the folks who saved lives that day,” Gov. Ned Lamont told a group of firefighters and others at Bradley International Airport.
CHRISTOPHER KEATING – THE HARTFORD COURANT
Gov. Ned Lamont traveled to Bradley International Airport on Wednesday to thank firefighters who scrambled to save lives after a tragic plane crash there that killed seven and injured seven more.
Lamont also personally thanked Chief Master Sgt. James Traficante, a Connecticut Air National Guard commander who was aboard the vintage B-17 that crashed Oct. 2 and used his military-issued, flame-retardant flight gloves to open an escape hatch, allowing others to get off the burning plane.
“I did get some burns on my head,” Traficante told Lamont outside a firehouse at the Bradley Air National Guard Base where the governor addressed reporters.
Traficante, who also serves as a Simsbury volunteer firefighter, has avoided interviews since the crash, and the guard had said he would not be making comments about the incident. He did not appear at the main news conference Wednesday with Lamont and the firefighters. Instead, he spoke with Lamont before the news conference.
Lamont hailed Traficante as a hero who boarded the World War II-era plane on his day off and played a key role in helping others, despite being injured himself in the crash.
“He’s the guy that happened to pay attention and happened to be the one that saw how they closed that hatch door,” Lamont said. “He was also the one who knew how to open that hatch door — with his arm hanging — and helped get a couple more people to live. They wouldn’t otherwise be here with us. … He happened to know what to do when it really counted.”
Lamont met Wednesday with Maj. Gen. Fran Evon, who oversees the Connecticut National Guard, and Brig. Gen. Gerry McDonald, along with numerous other guard members. About a dozen uniformed firefighters and five National Guard members chatted with Lamont and individually received symbols of appreciation.
“We owe you folks a debt of gratitude,” Lamont said to the assembled group. “These are the folks who saved lives that day. … Thank you for what you all did.”
Evon said the guard members were grateful for Lamont’s visit to the fire station at the airport complex. He said the general public might not be aware that the firefighters are at the airport 24 hours a day and ready to move into action at a moment’s notice.
“They train for this year-round,” Evon said.
On the morning of the crash, six firefighters were on duty, but eight more were called in. The crew spends extensive time responding to mutual aid calls for traffic accidents and house fires in East Granby and Suffield.
Chief Master Sgt. Robert Cross, who serves as the fire chief for the Connecticut Air National Guard, said the year-round training helped on the day of the plane crash.
“I really do think that how fast we responded and how well we worked together made a difference on how we stabilized the incident,” Cross said.
The B-17, which was operated by the Collings Foundation, a Massachusetts nonprofit that restores vintage aircraft and lets people pay to fly on them, developed engine trouble soon after taking off from the airport and crashed minutes later as it was attempting to get back to the runway.
A preliminary report into the crash released by the National Transportation Safety Board said one of the pilots operating the World War II-era bomber turned off the two engines on the right side of the plane as he tried to make an emergency landing, but didn’t give any reasons why he would have done so.
The B-17\u2032s right wing struck approach lights about 1,000 feet before the runway and hit the ground about 500 feet short of the runway. The aircraft veered off the runway and eventually crashed into a de-icing tank, exploding into a ball of flames. The pilot, co-pilot and five passengers were killed and seven others were injured.