EAST GRANBY, Conn. — The wife of a man who died in a B-17 bomber crash in Connecticut said Thursday she had “a really bad feeling” the vintage plane was going down as it returned after just 10 minutes in the air.
Debra Riddell said her husband, 59-year-old Robert Riddell of East Granby, Connecticut, texted her shortly into the trip that the plane was heading back and the 10 passengers had been told to return to their seats and strap themselves in. When she asked why, he answered, “turbulence.”
“I saw the plane come over and approach the runway and it went behind a very low hanger of some sort,” she told reporters. “As soon as it fell behind the hanger, I just had this really bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I just sensed that that plane was going to go down. I knew it. I was certain of it.”
Riddell then heard a “really, really loud sound” followed by a huge fire ball and billowing black smoke.
“I knew that plane went down. I couldn’t believe it. I was just stunned,” she said.
Debra Riddell said she found herself shaking and crying with a friend, wedged in a corner outside the building at Bradley International Airport where they had waited moments before with Robert Riddell for his $450 bucket list trip on the B-17.
“We both just were devastated. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” she said. “How could this B-17 have done this? That’s a strong plane. It’s supposed to be a plane that withstood so much in the war, brought people back safely.”
Seven people, including two pilots, were killed in the fiery wreck. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
Before the flight took off, Riddell said there were problems. As she stood on the tarmac to record a video, Riddell said the crew was working on the plane’s engine, which she said “didn’t seem to want to start.” At one point, she said, someone came out of the plane with a black cylinder, later explained to her to be air. A pilot also came out.
Riddell’s husband then sent her a text message.
“He realized there was a delay and he saw that the pilot had come out of the plane and had turned off the engines and said, ‘this doesn’t bode well,’” said Debra Riddell recalls. She doesn’t know if he was referring to concerns about the plane or the possibility his dream flight would be cancelled.
Robert Riddell, a father of two, didn’t originally plan to be on Wednesday’s flight. His wife said Collings Foundations, the educational group that brought the plane to Bradley this week, had called asking if he wanted to switch his ticket from Thursday to Wednesday. He agreed, thinking the weather would be better, Debra Riddell said.
It was supposed the latest in a series of history-related adventures for the couple, who married four years ago and visited Pearl Harbor on their honeymoon. They planned to travel to Normandy, France, next year for their 60th birthdays.
“We had so many plans,” Debra Riddell said. “I can’t believe it’s been so short.”
Susan Haigh contributed from Hartford.
Joseph Frederick And Susan Haigh, The Associated Press