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WW II bomber Liberty Belle forced to land, erupts in flames

OSWEGO, Ill. -- A World War II bomber made what appeared to be an emergency landing in a cornfield on Monday, and all seven people on board escaped before it was consumed by fire, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"The plane departed the airport, noted an emergency, and the pilot made what appears to be an emergency landing, after which the plane was consumed by fire," FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said in an e-mail. None of the passengers was injured.

The accident occurred right after the plane, known as the "Liberty Belle," took off from the Aurora Municipal Airport and the plane landed in an Oswego cornfield outside Chicago, Cory said. The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating the incident.

Jim Barry, who lives in a nearby subdivision, told the Chicago Tribune he heard a low-flying plane and looked to see it. The engine on the bomber's left wing was on fire, he said.

"Not a lot of flames, just more smoke than flames," Barry said.

The pilot reported a fire shortly after taking off, Sugar Grove Fire Chief Marty Kunkle said.

"He attempted to make a return to the airport, but couldn't make it so he put it down in a cornfield," Kunkel told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Firefighters from Oswego, Sugar Grove and Plainfield responded to the scene. Fire officials said they were having difficulty getting to the aircraft because of wet fields.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was made in 1944. Authorities say it is registered to the Liberty Foundation in Miami.

The Liberty Foundation, owner of the restored bomber, spends about $1 million a year flying the plane to about three dozen cities a year across the United States.

Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin has been a destination in each of the past four years, most recently last June and July. The bomber's website didn't list a local stop through the end of June this year.

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