DALLAS — Two historic military planes collided and crashed to the ground Saturday during a Dallas air show, federal officials said, sending plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky.
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and a Bell P-63 Kingcobra collided and crashed around 1:20 p.m., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement. The collision occurred during the Commemorative Air Force Wings Over Dallas show.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said on Sunday that six people died in the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board later confirmed the deaths during a news conference on Sunday afternoon.
"Authorities will continue working today on the investigation & identification of the deceased," he said on social media. "Please pray for their families and all involved."
During the Sunday news conference, the NTSB confirmed there were five crew members on the B-17 and one aboard the P-63.
Four of the six victims have been identified, so far: Terry Barker, Curtis Rowe, Craig Hutain and Len Root.
According to the NTSB, neither of the aircraft had a flight data recorder, also known as a "black box." The NTSB said videos and pictures from witnesses will be crucial to the investigation.
Anyone who has videos and pictures is urged to contact the NTSB at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leah Block, a spokesperson for Commemorative Air Force, said the Houston-based aircraft were not giving rides to paying customers at the time.
The B-17, an immense four-engine bomber, was a cornerstone of U.S. air power during World War II. The Kingcobra, a U.S. fighter plane, was used mostly by Soviet forces during the war. Most B-17s were scrapped at the end of World War II and only a handful remain today, largely featured at museums and air shows, according to Boeing.
The NTSB also said debris from the wreckage was scattered but mostly contained to the airport property.
Debris from the crash fell onto southbound Highway 67, sources told WFAA's Jason Whitely. Both southbound and northbound lanes of Hwy. 67 were shut down due to the crash, according to Dallas police.
Several videos posted on Twitter showed two aircraft appearing to collide in the air before they both rapidly descended, causing a large fire and plumes of black smoke to billow into the sky.
What went wrong?
Aviation attorney Jon Kettles believes the two World War II-era planes were both working properly at the time of the crash, but notes the P-63 has poor visibility.
“The age of the aircraft is a little misleading. There’s a lot of really old aircraft still flying safely. There’s airworthiness requirements," he said. “Just a terrible loss likely caused by a momentary lapse in judgment or momentary carelessness.”
The NTSB and Kettles both said Sunday the investigation will also look at the size of the area the planes were able to fly in and the plan for keeping all involved safe, as well as if the planes were following a pre-planned routine.
“That’s part of the process we’ll be going through is trying to determine what those processes and procedure were and if they were strictly followed," NTSB board member Michael Graham said. “We’ll look at everything that we can and let the evidence lead us to the appropriate conclusions but at this point we will not speculate on what happened.”
“Sure it’s an airport but it’s not a giant piece of real estate when it comes to a lot of aircraft doing a lot of creative things over a small space," Kettles said. “That’s probably going to be the central focus. What was the plan to keep everything safe because obviously that plan didn’t work.”
Kettles said the investigations, which can take a year or more, often lean on the technical experts in the air show and keep family members in the dark.
“The problem with the process is the people who influence the NTSB results are most likely the ones who had a role in causing the crash," he said.
Marvella Garcia, who was working with the show as a brand ambassador for Chevrolet, said she was speaking with someone conducting a survey when the crash happened, and the person she was speaking with said "wow, look at that explosion."
"I looked over and I said 'oh that's just part of the show,'" Garcia said. "There's a show within the show. The planes will cross over and then there's little explosions."
Garcia said she soon realized it was not part of the show. She said she has worked for several shows like this where it is normal to see re-enactments involving planes and explosions.
"Some people just thought it was a re-enactment," Garcia said about the crowd's reaction to the crash. "Whenever that happened, everyone was just kind of in shock like, is this really happening or is this just a re-enactment?"
Air show safety - particularly with older military aircraft - has been a concern for years. In 2011, 11 people were killed in Reno, Nevada, when a P-51 Mustang crashed into spectators. In 2019, a bomber crashed in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, killing seven people. The NTSB said then that it had investigated 21 accidents since 1982 involving World War II-era bombers, resulting in 23 deaths.
Wings Over Dallas bills itself as “America’s Premier World War II Airshow,” according to a website advertising the event. The show was scheduled for Nov. 11-13, Veterans Day weekend, and guests were to see more than 40 World War II-era aircrafts.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson tweeted the following statement on Saturday:
"As many of you have now seen, we have had a terrible tragedy in our city today during an airshow. Many details remain unknown or unconfirmed at this time. The @NTSB has taken command of the crash scene with @DallasPD and @DallasFireRes_q continuing to provide support."
Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation Chairman and former Republican State Rep. Jason Villalba said he was at the air show today.
"We left at 12:00 but George and I had planned to take a ride on the B-17," Villalba told WFAA. "We didn’t because it was sold out. Wow.“
The FAA released the following statement to WFAA:
A Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and a Bell P-63 Kingcobra collided and crashed at the Wings Over Dallas Airshow at Dallas Executive Airport in Texas around 1:20 p.m. local time Saturday. At this time, it is unknown how many people were on both aircraft. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate. The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and will provide additional updates.
The Commemorative Air Force/Wings Over Dallas sent WFAA this statement:
"This afternoon, two aircraft were involved in a mid-air collision at Dallas Executive Airport. The aircraft were a B-17 and P-63 Kingcobra, both out of Houston. Currently we do not have information on the status of the flight crews as emergency responders are working the accident.The Commemorative Air Force is working with local authorities and the FAA, and the NTSB will conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident. Any available information will be posted to www.commemorativeairforce.org"
This is a developing story. Check back for updates. The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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