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‘I feel terrible.’ World War II-era bomber that crashed in Connecticut once visited Paso

A World War II-era B-17 bomber that crashed in Connecticut, bursting into flames and killing multiple people, visited Paso Robles two years ago as part of the national Wings of Freedom Tour.

“There are less than 100 of the vintage WWII B-17s in existence, and fewer that are flyable,” said Jill Thayer, curator of Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles, noting that the B-17 was instrumental in winning the war. “Our hearts go out to the Collings Foundation, the families of those who were lost and the entire aviation community on this tragic event.”

The plane had taken off from Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, but struggled to gain altitude and was trying to land when it crashed into a maintenance shed, the Associated Press reported. The plane was associated with the Collings Foundation, an educational group.

“I feel terrible for the loss,” said Scott Stelzle, vice president of Estrella Warbirds Museum.

He is president of Gooney Bird Group LLC, which owns Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber, a World War II-era C-47 airplane that recently flew to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Stelzle also pilots Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber.

“I have to assume that whenever anybody puts themselves in an antique aircraft, they have to understand there’s a certain amount of risk, just like any other vehicle,” Stelzle said. “When you’re flying antique military aircraft, every single issue has to be dealt with and that’s one of the reasons we overmaintain, just to be safe.”

Thayer noted that it takes a lot of time, money and effort to keep vintage aircraft in flyable condition. She added that she’s flown in Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber multiple times, and always felt safe.

“I felt more safe in the C-47 than I do flying commercial,” Thayer said. “It’s such a solid, stable aircraft and they spend hours and hours maintaining it.”

Stelzle told The Tribune that the Connecticut crash makes him more cautious about flying, but not fearful.

“You can’t live in a level of fear based on how old is the aircraft,” Stelzle said. “Sometimes these things just happen, and it’s one of the risks of aviation.”

The B-17 Flying Fortress, named Nine O Nine, flew into Paso Robles Municipal Airport in May 2017. The plane returned to Paso Robles a year later.

In a 2017 Tribune video of the bomber, children can be seen playing and smiling as they walk around the vintage airplane.

To other people these are just machines,” Jamie Mitchell, a flight coordinator for the Collings Foundation, says in the video. “For us, the full time people, these planes are our family and we care and we love them and we work on them.”

“These are national treasures, you know?” Mitchell continues.

Thayer said the crash was “a moment for pause.”

“Those vintage aircraft made a difference in the world, then and now, and we’re continuing that legacy,” she said.

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.
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