Posted: 14 Jun 2011 09:50 AM PDT
WWII bomber that made fiery landing in Aurora cornfield had maintenance over weekend
Site of 'Flying Fortress' emergency landing
A photographer captures the moments after a World War II-era B-17 bomber makes a fiery emergency landing in a cornfield southeast of Aurora Municipal Airport today. Seven crew members and volunteers walked away without serious injury, officials said.
The "Liberty Belle" sits at the Aurora Municipal Airport last week. The aircraft was here as part of the Liberty Foundation's B-17 tour of 50 cities to honor veterans and educate children.
A World War II "Flying Fortress" bomber that burned after making an emergency landing in a cornfield this morning had undergone maintenance over the weekend, but investigators say they aren't sure why the B-17 developed problems.
The plane, christened the "Liberty Belle," took off from the Aurora Muncipal Airport at 9:30 a.m. and landed near Highway 71 and Minkler Road in Oswego after the pilot reported an engine fire, according to Sugar Grove Fire Chief Marty Kunkle.
Witnesses said the pilot set the plane down between a tower and a line of trees. Seven crew members and volunteers walked away without serious injury. The fire exploded after the landing, causing damage mostly to the fuselage and cockpit.
The crew had smelled smoke and were trying to pinpoint the problem when the pilot of another plane, a single-engine T6 Texan, radioed them about the engine fire, according to Tim Sorensen, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Sorensen said NTSB investigators did not know the cause of the fire but said crews were working on maintenance to the plane over the weekend. The NTSB will release a preliminary report in about a week and a final report in nine months.
NTSB officials will return to the scene Tuesday to determine how to remove the craft from the field. Investigators will also review pilot and maintenance records.
One person on the plane was treated at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora and released, hospital spokeswoman Courtney Satlak said.
The plane was headed to the Indianapolis Regional Airport and was due to arrive at about noon, according to Allisa Pipes, an airport spokeswoman. The plane was scheduled to give flights to the media today and was expected to offer flights to the public over the Father's Day weekend, Pipes said.
Don Brooks, founder of the Liberty Foundation, said the seven people on board were crew members and volunteers who help with the foundation's tours around the country.
The foundation had been flying the "Liberty Belle" since it was restored in 2004, Brooks said. The plane had not missed more than "a couple days" due to mechanical problems, he said, once flying to England and back with no problems.
"The airplane had been maintained meticulously," Brooks said. "We almost never have problems with it. We don't know what happened to it other than there was a fire."
Brooks said the pilot, whom he would not identify, did "a masterful job" getting the plane down quickly and safely.
Brooks said the foundation has another plane – a restored Curtis P-40E Warhawk – that was in Aurora this weekend and flew safely to Mount Comfort. The foundation has another B-17 that is still being restored, Brooks said.
"It's a sad day but a good one in that no one was hurt," Brooks said. "An airplane can be replaced."
Jim Barry was at his home in the Deerpath Creek subdivision when he heard a plane flying low overhead. "The windows were rattling. I said, 'That's a crop duster.' "
He looked out and saw the bomber and a smaller yellow plane. An engine on the left wing of the bomber -- the one farthest from the cockpit --- was on fire.
"Not a lot of flames, just more smoke than flames," Barry said.
The pilot managed to set the plane down in a gap between a relay tower about 60 to 70 feet high and a line of trees 25 to 30 feet high -- around 500 yards from his home. "He did a great job," Barry said.
Once the plane was on the ground, flames started shooting 50 feet in the air. Within minutes, emergency crews were at the site.
Vet turned down trip on plane: 'I was lucky this morning'
When World War II veteran Ira Weinstein heard that a vintage bomber had made a fiery emergency landing near the Aurora Municipal Airport today, chills coursed through his body.
Weinstein, who turned 92 last Friday and spent much of his military career flying B-24s over Germany, had planned to be on the plane with his grandson.
The pair had originally been scheduled to ride in the B-17 "Liberty Belle" with a handful of other veterans last Friday, Weinstein said. But the flight was postponed due to a "minor oil leak," Weinstein said.
On Saturday, Weinstein said a representative with the Liberty Foundation called him to say it had been fixed and invited him and his grandson to go up in the plane today.
But Weinstein, who lives in Glencoe, decided the long drive to Aurora would not be worth it. He and his grandson opted for getting lunch together instead.
"I was lucky this morning," said Weinstein, who was shot down during World War II and held as a prisoner of war. "When I looked at the plane, the way it was (torn apart), if there were maybe two more people in there, maybe we wouldn't have gotten out. I'm glad I wasn't there."
World War II veteran Robert Starzynski, who served as a tail gunner on a B-17, was supposed to fly on the "Liberty Belle" last Friday. He was stunned when he saw footage of the plane on fire.
"It flew yesterday, it's been flying all week," said Starzynski, 87.
Starzynski, who lives in Chicago, and his son had planned to take a ride on Sunday, but didn't because they were both not feeling well.
Starzynski said seeing the plane brought back memories from the war. Starzynski's plane was shot down in France in 1944 and he spent several months with the French underground.
"It makes you sick, I've seen it during the war," Starzynski said. "Fortunately the seven people on board made it."
Posted: 14 Jun 2011 01:37 AM PDT
The Dirigible G-LTEL who visited Grimbergen a few weeks ago crashed in Germany last week end
Thx Willy for the information
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