WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — As federal investigators combed through wreckage in search of what caused a vintage B-17 plane to crash shortly after takeoff Wednesday morning at Bradley International Airport, authorities identified two Massachusetts men among the seven people killed in the fiery wreck.
James Roberts, 48, of Ludlow, and David Broderick, 56, of West Springfield, were passengers on the World War-II era bomber.
“Our hearts and prayers have to go out to those folks that lost loved ones and for the recovery of those still injured,” James C. Rovella, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, said at a news conference.
Six people aboard the flight suffered injuries in the crash. An airport worker was also injured and taken to a hospital and a firefighter was treated for minor injuries at the scene, authorities said at a press conference Wednesday.
Rovella somberly read the names of those who died and those who survived. He asked that anyone who may have known the pilot, Ernest McCauley, 75, of Long Beach, Calif., contact authorities to help them identify his remains.
The remains of some of those killed have not been definitively identified, Rovella said. Authorities have the plane’s manifest and know who was on board, but formal identification may take time.
About five minutes into the flight, a pilot called the tower to report “some type of problem” with the aircraft, and officials saw that it was not gaining altitude. The plane circled around the airport to return to the runway but lost control on touchdown, bursting into flames and propelling a massive plume of black smoke.
Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the crash investigation, said the plane struck approach lights about 1,000 feet from a runway. The aircraft hit 30 of the lights, which are on breakaway poles, she said.
The four-engine aircraft, built in 1944, was operated by the Collings Foundation, a Stow educational group that offers rides to the public as part of a “Wings of Freedom Tour” that showcases vintage planes.
The plane overran a runway in Pennsylvania in 1987, Homendy said. In 1995, its landing gear failed to deploy in Nebraska.
Since 1982, the NTSB has investigated 21 accidents involving World War II-era bombers, she said. Those crashes resulted in 23 deaths and one injury. Three of those accidents involved a B-17.
Investigators have yet to determine where the survivors were seated in the plane at the time of the crash. During the flight, the pilot asked an air traffic controller if he could return to the airport, indicating that there was a problem with an engine. But Homendy said investigators had yet to determine whether multiple engines may have problems.
“We’re not ruling anything out,” she said.
The NTSB has requested inspection and maintenance records for the plane’s propellers, frame, and all four engines, as well as training records for the flight crew and those who worked on the plane. The last major inspection of the plane was conducted in January, Homendy said. Investigators are also interviewing other pilots with the Collings Foundation.
McCauley had volunteered for the foundation for more than 20 years, she said.
“At the time of the crash, he had over 7,300 hours in the B-17,” Homendy said. “And, reportedly, he has the highest time in the United States in a B-17.”
Authorities identified the other victims as co-pilot Michael Foster, 71, of Jacksonville, Fla.; Gary Mazzone, 66, of Broad Brook, Conn.; Robert Riddell, 59, of East Granby, Conn.; and Robert Rudner, 65, of Tolland, Conn.
Mazzone retired from the Vernon Police Department as a captain in 1998 and then joined the Connecticut state attorney’s office, where he continued his law enforcement career as an inspector until this year, officials said.
Vernon Police Officer Christopher Hammick worked with Mazzone in the small department.
“He was a well-rounded guy, a squared-away guy,’’ Hammick said. “He was a typical guy, he liked mechanical things. He hunted. He fished. He traveled.”
At Hartford Hospital, staff recounted the hectic moments from Wednesday, when they got the call saying injured patients were on their way from the airport. They had to quickly prepare rooms, brace for arrival — and make sure other patients were still taken care of, said Emergency Department Nurse Manager Torrey Trzcienski.
“All six of our trauma rooms were ready to go, with the full trauma team standing at the ready for whatever we would get,” she said. “We went into this business for this exact moment.”
Three of the patients were treated and released Wednesday. Two were transferred to a burn center.
Riddell’s wife, Debra, wrote on Facebook that she had endured “a long and tragic day.”
“Words cannot express how devastated I am,” she wrote. “He was my soulmate . . . he loved his children more than anyone could know . . . he was a brilliant, loving, funny, reliable, compassionate and the best man I’ve ever known.”