National Guard Airman Credited with Saving Passengers in B-17 Crash

FILE — In this file photo, Chief Master Sgt. James Traficante, 103rd Airlift Wing command chief, presents the 103rd Airlift Wing commander and command chief’s coin to Jadiel Aponte, 103rd Airlift Wing honorary Pilot for a Day, during the wing’s annual Pilot for a Day event at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, Connecticut, Sept. 19, 2019. The program puts the wing in partnership with local hospitals to identify a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness and bring them on base to meet members of the wing and learn about its mission. (Steven Tucker/U.S. Air National Guard)

Some passengers were in peril on Wednesday morning, trapped behind a hatch door amid the flaming wreckage of a B-17 bomber that had crashed at an airport near Hartford, Connecticut.

Their lifeline was another passenger aboard the World War II-era plane — a retired East Providence firefighter and member of the Connecticut Air National Guard with combat experience.

Chief Master Sgt. James Traficante, 54, who had brought a pair of military flame-resistant flight gloves along for his flight, was credited Thursday as a hero who opened the hatch door, creating a passage to safety for other passengers of the flight.

Seven of the 13 people aboard the plane were killed when the Flying Fortress dropped out of the sky short of the runway at Bradley International Airport, crashed into a maintenance building and burned.

The Connecticut Guard did not name Traficante, who lives in Simsbury, Connecticut. A Connecticut National Guard news release posted on the Facebook page of the 103rd Air Wing identified the man who opened the hatch door as the current command chief of the 103rd Air Wing, adding that the same airman had been treated for injuries at Hartford Hospital and was at home recovering. The air wing’s website identifies the command chief of the 103rd — also known as the “Flying Yankees” — as Traficante.

He drew praise Thursday in Connecticut and also in Rhode Island, where he served as a firefighter from 1990 to 2010 and was a member of the Rhode Island Air National Guard.

“The Connecticut National Guard is thankful that our Airman on board the aircraft is safe …” the adjutant general of the Connecticut Guard, Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, said in a statement Thursday.

East Providence’ acting Fire Chief Glenn J. Quick said he was aware of Traficante’s involvement in the crash. He described Traficante as an outstanding firefighter and a consummate professional who had a mastery of equipment and preparation.

Traficante served with the Rhode Island Air Guard when the group transitioned to C-130J transports. He had training and experience with aircraft emergencies. Traficante’s combat experience included time in Afghanistan. He also has an Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, which is awarded for service fighting terrorist groups in Iraq or Syria, including the Islamic State.

Said Quick: “It wasn’t a surprise to us that he would be involved in a plane crash, survive … and go above and beyond.”

This article is written by Mark Reynolds from The Providence Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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