Six people were killed after two historic military planes collided and crashed to the ground Saturday afternoon during a Dallas air show, officials said.
“According to our Dallas County Medical Examiner, there are a total of 6 fatalities from yesterday’s Wings over Dallas air show incident,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins tweeted Sunday. He said authorities are continuing to work to identify the victims.
The Allied Pilots Association, the American Airlines pilots’ union, said on Twitter that two of its former members, Terry Barker and Len Root, were on board the B-17 and had died.
The crash occurred around 1:20 p.m. Saturday, when the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and a Bell P-63 Kingcobra collided at the Wings Over Dallas Airshow at Dallas Executive Airport, according to information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration.
There were no reports of injuries on the ground, but Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said the collision’s debris field includes parts of Executive Airport grounds, Highway 67, and a nearby strip mall.
The B-17 would normally have a crew of four or five, and the Kingcobra would just have a pilot, Hank Coates, CEO and president of Commemorative Air Force, the organization behind the show, said at a news conference Saturday evening.
No paying customers were on board the B-17, he said.
Because family needs to be notified of any possible fatalities, and because federal investigators have taken jurisdiction, Coates said he’s unable to make manifests or information about fatalities public.
Both planes were part of the nonprofit organization’s fleet of 180 aircraft used in its own air shows and those of other groups to demonstrate how the planes were used in World War II.
“This was a World War II flight-demonstration type of air show,” Coates said. “It’s very patriotic.”
There was about an hour left in the show when the collision occurred, he said.
He said the planes are meticulously maintained and the pilots are not only experienced — often from the worlds of passenger jets or military flight or both — but the CAF does its own vetting and preparation.
“There is a very strict process of vetting and training,” Coates said.
The show was the organization’s seventh year in Dallas, where at least 4,000 were on-hand Saturday, organizers said.
Johnson said the National Transportation Safety Board would take command of the scene and the investigation. Coates said the NTSB was expected to take command later Saturday night from the FAA.
“As many of you have now seen, we have had a terrible tragedy in our city today during an airshow,” Johnson said. “Many details remain unknown or unconfirmed at this time.”
Emergency crews raced to the crash scene at the Dallas Executive Airport, about 10 miles from the city’s downtown.
Live TV news footage from the scene showed people setting up orange cones around the crumpled wreckage of the bomber, which was in a grassy area.
Videos of the scene showing the aftermath, captured by an onlooker, shows smoke and flames billowing above the crash site.
Photos from the scene, including one shared by NBC Dallas-Fort Worth, show a cloud of smoke over the crash site where the planes landed after colliding in the air.
Morgan Curry, who said he witnessed the crash from a nearby parking lot, told the station, “I honestly can’t believe that we witnessed that, like just standing here underneath it.”
“It’s like literally as you looked up you saw the big plane and then you saw one of the little planes split off from the three and then as soon as it split off it’s like they just collided into each other and the little plane split the big plane in half,” Curry said.
Anthony Montoya, 27, was at the air show with a friend and saw the two planes collide.
“I just stood there. I was in complete shock and disbelief,” Montoya said. “Everybody around was gasping. Everybody was bursting into tears. Everybody was in shock.”
The two planes involved in the collision didn’t see combat in World War II but weren’t replicas, the Commemorative Air Force said
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.
Several videos posted on Twitter showed the fighter plane appearing to fly into the bomber, causing them to quickly crash to the ground and setting off a large ball of fire and smoke.
“It was really horrific to see,” Aubrey Anne Young, 37, of Leander, Texas, who saw the crash. Her children were inside the hangar with their father when it occurred. “I’m still trying to make sense of it.”
A woman next to Young can be heard crying and screaming hysterically on a video that Young uploaded to her Facebook page.
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 Hartford, Connecticut, killing seven people. The National Transportation Safety Board 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 Friday through Sunday, Veterans Day weekend, and guests were to see more than 40 World War II-era aircrafts. Sunday’s show has been canceled.
Organizer Coates said the maneuvers being carried out before the collision were not complicated. He called such an accident, “very rare.”
“This is not about the aircraft,” he said. “They’re safe, they’re very well maintained.”
The FAA said neither it nor the NTSB identifies people involved in aircraft accidents.
Coates said the number of those involved and their identities will be released after next-of-kin notification with the approval of the NTSB.