LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4) — A group of Colorado World War II enthusiasts are mourning the loss of seven kindred spirits after a plane crash in Connecticut this week. The plane was the same World War II era bomber that flew dozens of similar flights in Northern Colorado this past July.
Brad Hoopes, who preserves WWII veterans’ stories through an organization called Remember and Honor, has helped organize World War II veteran reunions for a decade now. Every year he also teams up with Jeneal McKinley and the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation to bring World War II era aircraft to the Northern Colorado Regional Airport.
Last week, Hoopes and McKinley were shocked to see a familiar B-17 bomber had crashed at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Of the 13 people on-board the plane, seven died.
“Just the fact that that plane crashed, I broke down and cried,” Hoopes said. “It just got worse as the day went on and you heard about fatalities, then you learned about Mac the pilot.”
Hoopes tells CBS4 the plane involved in the crash was the same B-17 that flew nearly 50 flights full of veterans and enthusiasts at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in July.
According to a post on its website, the Collings Foundation has since suspended all of the remaining flights on its 2019 Wings of Freedom Tour.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were on that flight and we will be forever grateful to the heroic efforts of the first responders at Bradley. The Collings Foundation flight team is fully cooperating with officials to determine the cause of the crash of the B-17 Flying Fortress and will comment further when details become known,” a statement read.
Jeneal McKinley, who has helped organize local flights for 6 years, said she hopes the foundation will continue the flights in the future.
“It’s important for our generation, and for the generations that are coming, to look at these planes and see what our boys and women went through to be able to fight these battles and win,” McKinley said.
Hoopes said continuing the flights would benefit veterans like Lee Bashor, who passed away earlier this year. In pictures from a previous reunion, Bashor, who flew 22 combat missions during WWII, can be seen wearing his old uniform while in the cockpit with pilots of the B-17.
“I was watching a 92-year-old being transformed back into a 19-year-old, and to me that’s what it was all about,” Hoopes said.
Of the nearly 13,000 bombers built during World War II, only about nine can still fly, Hoopes said.
The Associated Press found that before Wednesday, the NTSB had investigated 21 accidents involving WWII era bombers since 1982, resulting in 23 deaths.