WWII bomber crash lands, bursts into flames

A WWII bomber plane crashed and caught fire in far west suburban Oswego Monday morning, June 13, 2011. (Chopper 7 HD image)

June 13, 2011 8:34:13 PM PDT
A World War II bomber plane caught fire after a crash landing in far west suburban Oswego Monday morning. No one was injured.

Seven people were onboard the plane. Officials say they all walked away from the crash near Minkler Road and Route 71.

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was at Aurora Municipal Airport in Sugar Grove to mark the 67th anniversary of D-Day. The bomber, which was grounded over the weekend due to mechanical problems, took off from Aurora Municipal Airport at 9:30 a.m. Monday and crash landed shortly after.

Sugar Grove Fire Chief Marty Kunkel said his department received a call that the plane had a fire in the cockpit and was trying to come back when they made an emergency landing in a field.

"We were notified by the FAA tower that the plane contacted them. We were automatically dispatched. All of our information came from the FAA tower," Chief Kunkel said. He said the fire is in the jurisdiction of the Oswego Fire Department.

ABC 7 has obtained the control tower tapes in the moments before the emergency landing. "You're on fire," said the pilot of a chase plane who spotted the flames shooting from the number two engine on the bomber's left wing. "Put it on the ground...put it in the field...fast as you can, get 'er down."

The B-17 pilot made a rough but controlled landing in a cornfield. The pilot of the chase plane used his aircraft as a beacon. "Continue circling overhead. The emergency vehicles are looking for you," the air traffic controller is heard saying on the tapes.

Some residents nearby shared their video and photos of the scene with ABC 7.

"Once we were there longer and I was videoing, I saw more flames and more smoke, and the smoke kind of subsided a little bit and then a big, black column of smoke like an explosion came," said Zak Overmeyer.

Bob Mudra, a retired police officer, got to the scene as fire responders arrived.

"Right when I walked up, I saw the plane just burst into flames, and several times it exploded," said Mudra.

"The loud crackling and the loud noises from the engine, it really shocked me. I looked over and I seen huge clouds of smoke and dust and then shortly after that huge flames," said Richard Seitz.

The problems apparently began a few minutes after takeoff, but the pilot couldn't make it back to the airport.

"One person aboard the airplane observed a fire in one of the engines. They then made an emergency landing in the field where the seven passengers were able to get out of the airplane. One person did suffer a minor injury, a head injury, exiting the plane and they were taken to Rush Copley hospital," said Deputy Chief Craig French.

Hunt Club Elementary School overlooks the field where the plane landed. The school's custodian, Brock Spencer, was outside cleaning chairs Monday morning.

"He was coming down real low, heading north and he did like this bank and came in and landed in the corn, real quick, just like that," said Spencer.

"We were in the office and heard what seemed like an air show going on out here and at that time, Brock had called and said, 'I think you guys need to come out and see this," said Principal Phil Murray, Hunt Club Elementary School.

Jim Gibson took video of the plane on Sunday. His uncle was a tail gunner in a B-17 in World War II. Gibson says a mechanic told him they had been repairing a fuel leak.

"We were wondering would it fly, and I went up and took some videos of it. And the gentleman said, 'no, it doesn't look like it. We have some fuel leakage problems," said Gibson.

Federal investigators are beginning the work of determining what sparked the fire that brought down the plane.

"We are looking to recover the aircraft tomorrow and then do a follow up detailed examination of the aircraft in the next couple of days," said Tim Sorensen of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Ira Weinstein, 92, was shot down in a similar plane during World War II. He and his grandson were invited to fly Monday but decided against it.

"What if I had gone there this morning? It would have been hard for me to get out of that airplane. I don't move around very fast," he told ABC7.

ABC 7 news partner The Daily Herald profiled the plane and D-Day event over the weekend.

The restored B-17, called "Liberty Belle," is owned by Liberty Foundation, libertyfoundation.org.