CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4) – A B-17 pilot from Colorado who made an emergency landing in an Illinois farm field before the vintage aircraft was consumed by flames is speaking out for the first time about the experience.
Lawrence “Bud” Sittig, a former Delta Airlines captain who lives in Centennial, talked about the dramatic landing in a calm, matter-of-fact way during an interview with CBS4.
With smoke on board during the flight, Sittig says he first thought he could make it back to the airport he had taken off from. But a chase plane gave him a stunning order.
“He said it in a very directive way: ‘You’re burning badly, put it in a field,'” Sittig recalled.
Three engines were still running, Sittig says. That enabled him and his co-pilot to land fairly softly in the field.
“Our thoughts then shifted to getting out of the airplane, getting the passengers out, of course,” he says. “The passengers were already going out the back door.”
He and his co-pilot saw flames shooting up through a wing, “pillaring about 20 feet in the air,” Sittig says.
Local fire trucks couldn’t get to the World War II-era plane because the fields were too wet.
“And here we were at the other end of the field watching our airplane and a piece of history slowly burn to the ground,” Sittig says.
All aboard survived, and only one passenger was injured.
Of his adventure, Sittig says modestly, “It’s difficult for me to raise this to the level of heroism.”
The Liberty Belle was one of only 14 of “flying fortresses” still able to operate. Aviation enthusiasts familiar with the plane says they observed the plane recently had fuel-leak problems.
The Liberty Foundation had spent 12 years and $3 million restoring the plane for tours.