History buff fulfilling bucket list among 7 killed in World War II plane crash

Posted at 1:30 PM, Oct 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-03 13:30:01-04

A man fulfilling his bucket list was one of the seven people killed when a World War II plane crashed at Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Connecticut.

The vintage Boeing B-17 crashed minutes after taking off Wednesday. The plane crashed at the end of a runway while trying to land, sending plumes of smoke into the air.

Among those killed was Robert Riddell, a loving husband and devoted new grandfather who was a World War II history buff. He was fascinated by this plane -- and flying in it was on his bucket list, according to his wife.

"He was really excited about it," his wife, Debra Riddell, told ABC News. "This was really important to him."

RELATED: Officials report fatalities after a WWII-era B-17 bomber crashed at a Connecticut airport

Debra Riddell, who was at the airport to watch, said her husband was texting her from the plane before takeoff.

"He said it was getting warm in there. He said, 'this doesn't bode well,'" Debra Riddell said. "It could've been concern but he didn't express that to me."

He continued to text her from the air, telling her they were headed back to the airport. She asked her husband why, and he replied in his final text: "turbulence."

"I was just in shock," she said as the plane burst into flames. "I just started screaming and crying."

"He loved his kids beyond was everything to him," Debra Riddell said.

Also among those killed was Gary Mazzone, a longtime member of the Vernon, Connecticut, police department, according to Vernon police Lt. Bill Meier.

Mazzone served the Vernon Police Department for 22 years before retiring in 1998, said Meier. He then worked as an inspector within the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice, from which he retired in January.

"Captain Mazzone had a distinguished career and was a graduate of the FBI National Academy," Meier said in a statement. "Captain Mazzone spent over 42 years in law enforcement serving the town and the state. He had a special relationship with Special Olympics Connecticut and is a member of their hall of fame."

"Please keep Captain Mazzone and his family in your thoughts and prayers," Meier said.

Thirteen people were on board: 10 passengers and three crew members, officials said. Fourteen were hurt, officials said, including all of those on board and an airport employee on the ground.

Among the survivors on board were two Simsbury, Connecticut, firefighters, the fire chief told ABC News.

Tori Boykin said her relative, Mitch Melton, was injured in the plane crash, suffering a broken his arm, multiple broken ribs and a bleeding liver.

Melton was previously in the Army and Air Force, where he was an aviation mechanic, and was now working on the vintage plane, Boykin told ABC News.

"It came across the news," Boykin said. "The first thing that I thought was that -- when they said that there was three fatalities early on -- I thought that we had lost him."

Five minutes into the flight, a problem was reported to the tower, said officials. The pilot tried to return to the runway and circle around but on touchdown the plane lost control and struck a de-icing facility, officials said.

Witness Gerald Cyr told ABC News he noticed the plane wasn't lined up with the runway and "knew something was wrong."

"Ten seconds after, maybe less than that, it disappeared, big puff of smoke, and it did crash," he said.

Bradley International Airport -- the second largest in New England -- shut down immediately after the fiery crash. The airport reopened shortly before 2 p.m., but the runway where the accident occurred remained closed.

The World War II plane was civilian registered -- not flown by the military, according to the FAA, and was part of the Wings of Freedom tour, according to ABC New Haven affiliate WTNH.

The same plane had an incident in 1987 when it ran off a runway in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, according to an NTSB report. Three of the 12 people on board the flight were injured.

Officials with the Collings Foundation, an educational foundation which holds the Wings of Freedom tour, said in a statement: "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 Airport. The Collings Foundation flight team is fully cooperating with officials to determine the cause of the crash of the B-17 Flying Fortress."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on Twitter called for an immediate investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) "so we can get to the bottom of what happened & prevent future tragedies."

"Vintage planes must be properly maintained & flown— & the NTSB must tell us whether this tragedy could have been prevented," Blumenthal said.

The NTSB said it was sending a team to the crash site.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont tweeted: "Our prayers our with the victims and their families."

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., wrote on Twitter, "My heart goes out to everyone impacted by this crash."

ABC News' Whit Johnson, Aaron Katersky, Christine Theodorou, Jason Kuang and Alyssa Acquavella contributed to this report.