By Peter Szekely
(Reuters) - The pilot of a World War Two-era B-17 that was crippled by engine trouble minutes after takeoff failed take steps that could have averted a fiery 2019 crash landing near Hartford, Connecticut, that killed seven people, federal investigators said on Tuesday.
A report by the National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in Windsor Locks on pilot error, which it said compounded maintenance failures and insufficient regulatory oversight.
"Flightpath data indicated that during the return to the airport the landing gear was extended prematurely, adding drag to an airplane that had lost some engine power," the NTSB said.
In its attempt to return to Bradley International Airport during the "living history" flight experience on Oct. 2, 2019, the plane struck stanchions short of the runway and careened across a grassy area and a taxiway before striking a de-icing facility.
The vintage aircraft likely could have landed safely if the pilot had kept the landing gear retracted and maintained more airspeed until the runway was within reach, the NTSB said.
Two of the plane's four engines lost some power during the flight which lasted barely more than five minutes, the NTSB said.
All seven of those who died were aboard the plane, one of only 18 B-17 aircraft still operating in the United States, authorities said. The crash also injured seven people, including a worker on the ground.
NTSB investigators also blamed the pilot for inadequately maintaining the aircraft whose partial loss of power in two engines contributed to the crash.
The plane was operated by the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation, which preserves and displays automotive and aviation-related history.
The pilot was the maintenance director at the foundation, which had an ineffective voluntary safety management system in place that failed to identify and mitigate numerous hazards, the NTSB said.
It also cited ineffective federal oversight of the foundation as a contributing factor.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Stephen Coates)