A third lawsuit has been filed against the Collings Foundation over the Oct. 2 crash of its World War II B-17G bomber at Bradley International Airport that claimed the lives of seven people, including five men who had paid $450 for a short flight aboard the historic aircraft, and the pilot and copilot.
Among those killed was David Broderick Jr. of Southwick, Massachusetts, whose estate recently brought a wrongful death claim in state court against the owners of the airplane. He was a longtime employee of Collins Aerospace, which was formerly Hamilton Standard and Hamilton Sundstrand, located near the airport.
The lawsuit, brought by Middlebury attorney Garrett M. Moore Sr., alleges the fiery crash was the result of the Collings Foundation’s “negligence, recklessness and callous indifference.”
The lawsuit seeks money damages from the Collings Foundation, the Stow, Massachusetts-based organization that owned the bomber and several other aircraft that toured the country offering rides in what it called the “Wings of Freedom Tour,” as well as foundation officers.
“The Broderick family is obviously devastated by the loss of our father,” said Joshua Broderick, the executor of his father’s estate. “We are looking to get answers, looking for accountability and most importantly looking to make sure this never happens to another family.”
In March, the Federal Aviation Administration, citing safety concerns, revoked the Collings Foundation’s permission to carry passengers aboard its fleet of historic aircraft.
The bomber, called Nine O Nine, developed engine trouble shortly after takeoff and crashed as the pilot tried to nurse the crippled aircraft back to the airport.
The FAA finding, which came after investigations into the crash and Collings’ operations by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board, provides much of the evidence the lawsuit relies upon in its allegations about Collings’ alleged misconduct. The NTSB investigation is not complete and no final report has been released.
Collings’ spokesman Hunter Chaney said the organization would not comment on the allegations in the lawsuit. “In order to obtain technical experience and expertise, the National Transportation Safety Board made The Collings Foundation a party to the pending accident investigation,” Chaney said in a written statement. “In that role, the foundation is prohibited, both by the certification of party representative and by federal regulations, from commenting on this matter and disseminating information that is the subject of this investigation.”
In addition to Broderick, 56, the others who died in the crash were Robert Rubner, 64, of Tolland; Gary Mazzone, 66, of East Windsor; James Roberts, 48, of Ludlow, Massachusetts; and Robert Riddell, 59, of East Granby. The pilot, Ernest “Mac” McCauley, 75, of California, and copilot, Michael Foster, 71, of Florida, also were killed in the crash.
Those injured were Andy Barrett, 36, of Hadley, Massachusetts; James Traficante, 54, and Joseph “JT” Huber, 48, both of Simsbury; Linda Schmidt, 62, and Tom Schmidt, 62, both of Feeding Hills, Massachusetts; and flight crew chief Mitchell Melton, 34, of Dalhart, Texas. Andrew Sullivan, 28, of Enfield, an airport employee, was injured when the airplane hit a deicing facility.
The lawsuit contends that the day of the crash was not the first time the flight crew had trouble with two engines on the aircraft’s right side. Both engines had run rough during flights Oct. 1.
When the flight crew had trouble starting the engines Oct. 2, the lawsuit claims, the crew chief suggested the flight be delayed so additional maintenance could be performed. McCauley rejected the suggestion and pressed forward with the flight.
Because of McCauley’s dual role as chief pilot and director of maintenance, Collings did not have adequate safeguards in place to ensure safe operation of its aircraft, the lawsuit contends.
McCauley’s next mistake was failing to run the engines up to full power before takeoff. Doing so, the lawsuit contends, would have revealed the problems with the two engines on the aircraft’s right wing and the need for additional maintenance.
Once airborne, McCauley sought to return to the airport but did not declare an emergency, the lawsuit alleges. Had he done so, he would have been cleared to land sooner on a closer runway. Instead, he tried to nurse the struggling aircraft back to the runway from which it took off. It fell out of the sky short of the runway and went out of control before striking the airport’s deicing station and bursting into flames.
The disregard for safety was because there was pressure to fly the airplanes, collect fares and generate revenue for the Collings Foundation, according to the lawsuit.
“In the time period leading up to Oct. 2, 2019, Collings was more focused on opening and operating its American Heritage Museum, growing its assets and increasing the compensation of its executive director than it was on ensuring compliance with its promises to the FAA, its regulatory obligations and the terms and conditions of its own flight manual system,” the lawsuit reads.
Between 2008 and 2018, the annual salary for foundation executive director Robert F. Collings Jr. went from $33,000 to $375,000.
The foundation also placed passengers in unauthorized and unsafe seating to maximize the number of passengers it could carry and fares it could collect, the lawsuit alleges.
And when it became apparent the flight was in trouble, the flight crew did not notify the passengers there was a problem or to brace for impact, the lawsuit claims.
Since the crash, the Collings Foundation has sought to divest itself of assets, such as property and its aircraft, the lawsuit alleges, because the foundation has inadequate insurance to handle the claims brought by those hurt and the families of those killed.
Hartford law firm Shipman & Goodwin filed suit against the Collings Foundation June 4 in Superior Court in Hartford, charging negligence, recklessness and callous indifference. Shipman & Goodwin represents the five passengers who survived the crash and the estates of three of the five passengers who died.
A second lawsuit was filed by Bridgeport law firm Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder alleging the same misconduct.
David Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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