“Tornado October 3,1979”
I went to work as an apprentice airport electrician at Bradley International Airport on the morning of Oct. 3,1979. It was just a normal day like all days. The birds were singing and a fall chill was in the air. I drove my newly purchased used $500 1971 Ford pickup truck to the airport and parked it along side my friends new Ford van and went to get my work truck out of building # 228. In those days all the airport buildings had numbers. They were old military buildings left over from World war II that were given to the State of Connecticut and each had a designation or a number. I parked the work truck in that building at night when we were done work…As I was unlocking the door the third vehicle arrived. It was one of the airport painters just getting to work. I backed the truck out of the building and got out and locked the door. Said good morning to the painter who was suffering from his usual hangover and I left. I drove by the new fire house and onto the eastside taxiway to cross the approach of runway 33. I picked up the microphone and called the Bradley control tower. “Bradley ground this is this is State 5 on the east side, at the approach of runway 33”. The tower replied “State 5 Bradley ground“. I replied, “holding short of runway 33, clearance to cross“. Hold short State 5 landing traffic to your left…I waited and watched as a Mohawk Airlines BAC 111 passed and landed, tires chirping and smoking as they hit the runway. As the plane passed by, the tower said, “State 5 clear to cross runway 33“…I replied, “5 roger, clear to cross“ and I headed to the Electrical shop on the ground floor of the terminal building…Little did anyone know this would be one of the worst days in the history of Bradley International Airport.
I was in that Electrical shop that afternoon. I think it was around 2PM, when the sky turned a dark gray. It had an odd pinkish red tint and the wind was from the east, it was unusually strong. The airport Windsock was straight out. That was not a good sign. Someone in the shop was yelling something and air pressure in that large room dropped to the point where the air was being vacuumed out at the ramp level doors. The doors slammed to the open position as papers and small tools were being sucked out to the aircraft ramp. Without thinking I ran to the open doors, I could feel the wind and pressure at my back as I grasped both handles and struggled to close them. I managed to get both doors closed enough to slam the bolt closed and lock them. As I did this I watched through the door windows as the roof of the cantilever hanger started to swirl off in a counter clock wise flight into the air…I glanced to my left and watched as an American Airlines Boeing 707 tried to land on runway 24, only to touch down, tires smoking and then throttle forward and nose up with a deafening roar to take off again while making an immediate right turn away, wings bent from the strain of the turn heading away from the storm as fast as the airliner would Go. It was then I heard the wind roaring and the train sound that everyone talks about. After that I don’t remember much except my assignment was to keep the airport emergency generators running as long as I could. I told my supervisor later that night that if I didn’t shut them off one of them was going to burn out because of the amps it was putting out and load it was carrying. If I remember correctly he said “ Keep them running I don’t care if they burn up” He did some swearing but I won’t say what he said…I did manage to keep them running and one generator did burn out as I predicted it would in the early morning hours, coming to a grinding halt.…I shut off the other generator and the airport runways and terminal went dark.
Earlier in the evening I did manage to call home and was relieved to find out that our house was in tact and everyone was safe. In the weeks to come everything is a blur but I remember the destruction and devastation were like nothing I have ever seen. I describe it as like the airport was bombed during a war. There were pieces of aircraft everywhere. The smell of aviation fuel was unbearable. I was astonished at the nails and debris that was everywhere and pieces of homes and buildings that were in what was left of the twisted Oak and Maple trees. I don’t recall when I went to check on my truck but when I got there it was intact but that new van that I parked next to was totally destroyed. The chimney from the building fell on the rear of the van and crushed it. My truck had a broken windshield and two flat tires. The painters car was dented and sandblasted like my truck but otherwise was OK. These pictures. Taken with what I believe is a 35 MM camera. One of the Cantilever hanger with the roof gone and the tail of a B-52 bomber sticking out of the back and my truck, I have never seen before till the other day. I was happily surprised and if you look closely there is my truck parked over by that pile of sand. It’s the one in the middle. That pile of wood and junk is what is left of building 228.…There were times when I parked my truck in the building. I glad I didn’t do it that day…I have never been in a situation like that since and I never want to be…