Educational group suspends remainder of 2019 flights following fatal WWII plane crash

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An educational foundation that enables people to book flights on historical military planes has suspended flight operations for the remainder of 2019 following a crash on a World War II aircraft that killed seven people.

The Collings Foundation, a non-profit group based in Stow, Massachusetts, announced on its website that it will issue refunds for flights booked for its Wings of Freedom tour through the 2019 season.

Seven people were killed on Wednesday after a vintage Boeing B-17 crashed minutes after takeoff at the Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Connecticut, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane crashed at the end of the runway after the pilot had called air traffic control to report an issue with the engine and was trying to land. Thirteen people were on board, including 10 passengers and three crew members, according to officials.

World War II history buff Robert Riddell was among the victims. He was fascinated by the plane and died while checking the flight off his bucket list, his wife, Debra Riddell, told ABC News.

Other victims included a longtime member of the Vernon, Connecticut, police department and the pilot and co-pilot of the plane, according to police.

The survivors were able to escape after Chief Master Sgt. James Traficante, a member of the Connecticut Air National Guard, opened a hatch on the plane.

The plane’s pilot, 75-year-old Ernest McCauley, had flown for the Collings Foundation for more than 20 years and had 7,300 hours in the B-17 — more time than any other B-17 pilot in the country, according to the NTSB.

The crash has since raised questions about the safety of vintage planes, The Associated Press reported. Since 1982, the NTSB has investigated 21 accidents involving WWII-era bomber planes, which resulted in a combined 23 deaths, not counting those that occurred on Wednesday, according to AP.

The B-17 involved in the fatal crash had experienced two previous accidents, according to the NTSB. In 1987, it overran a runway in Pennsylvania, and in 1995, a landing gear failed to deploy.

“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,” a statement on the Collings Foundation website read.

The educational group will still be hosting the Battle for the Airfield, a WWII reenactment, on Oct. 12 and 13 at the American Heritage Museum in Hudson, Massachusetts, according to its website.

ABC News’ Emily Shapiro contributed to this report.

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