EUGENE, Ore. -- The historic World War II B-17 bomber that crashed in Connecticut, killing at least seven people, has ties to Eugene.
Jerry Ritter said he and his friend Don had volunteered as a ground crew members for the "Nine-O-Nine” B-17 since the early 90s and is heartbroken over the tragedy.
"This thing just tore a big hole in all of our hearts. We're devastated by it," Ritter said. "We knew the people, we knew the airplane, we worked on the airplane -- I may still have some airplane oil under my fingernails from this past summer -- just devastating."
Ritter said the Collings Foundation, the group that owned the plane, has brought it to Oregon every year for the past two decades. He said it was last in Eugene in 2016 and was most recently in Salem and Corvallis this past summer.
As a grounds crew member, Ritter said he helped do minor repairs on the plane and has even traveled to New England to take part.
Among the dead is pilot Ernest "Mac" McCauley, 75, of Long Beach, California. Officials said he had been flying the plane for more than 20 years and logged more than 7,000 hours.
"If there was any way at all he could have saved that airplane, he would have done it," Ritter said.
Ritter said he's worried the Federal Aviation Administration may rule that the B-17s are now too old to fly. WWII veteran and Oregon Air and Space Museum volunteer Vince Neuman hopes they can still take to the skies to honor the legacy of veterans and allow others to experience history firsthand.
"If you stop flying them, how many people have been eliminated from the pleasure of flying in an airplane like that?" Neuman said.
Authorities are still investigating the crash.
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