Two World War II-era military planes collided in mid-air and crashed during an air show at Dallas Executive Airport on Saturday afternoon, killing at least two people on board, officials said.
More than 40 firefighters responded to the scene after two vintage planes — a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and a Bell P-63 Kingcobra — crashed during the Wings Over Dallas Airshow.
In video footage of the crash, which the mayor of Dallas described as “heartbreaking,” the planes are seen breaking up in midair after the collision, then hitting the ground within seconds before bursting into flames.
Here are the latest developments as investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are due to arrive at the scene on Sunday.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the crash occurred around 1:20 p.m. Saturday. The death toll has yet to be confirmed, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said Saturday.
The Allied Pilots Association — the union that represents American Airlines pilots — has identified two retired pilots and former union members among those killed in the collision.
Former members Terry Barker and Len Root were crew on the B-17 Flying Fortress during the airshow, The APA announced this on social media.
“Our hearts go out to their families, friends and colleagues past and present,” the union said. The APA is offering professional counseling services at its Fort Worth headquarters following the incident.
In a press conference Saturday, Hank Coates, president and CEO of the Commemorative Air Force, an organization that preserves and maintains vintage military aircraft, told reporters that the B-17 “typically has a crew of four to five people. That was in the plane” while the P-63 is a “single-pilot fighter plane”.
“I can tell you it was normally manned,” Coates said. “I cannot release the number of people on the list or the names on the list until cleared by the NTSB.”
The Commemorative Air Force identified both aircraft as being based in Houston.
“Currently we have no information on the status of the flight crews as emergency responders are working on the accident,” the group said in a statement, adding that it is working with local authorities and the FAA.
No bystanders or others injured on the ground were reported, although the debris field from the collision includes the Dallas Executive Airport compound, Highway 67 and a nearby shopping mall.
The B-17 was part of the Commemorative Air Force collection nicknamed the “Texas Raiders” and was stored in a hangar in Conroe, Texas, near Houston.
It was one of around 45 complete examples of the model, of which only nine were airworthy.
The P-63 was even rarer. About 14 examples are known to survive, four of which were airworthy in the US, including one owned by the Commemorative Air Force.
More than 12,000 B-17s were produced by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft and Lockheed between 1936 and 1945, with nearly 5,000 lost during the war and the rest being scrapped in the early 1960s. About 3,300 P-63s were manufactured by Bell Aircraft between 1943 and 1945 and were used primarily by the Soviet Air Force during World War II.
The FAA led the investigation into Saturday’s air show crash, but it should be turned over to the NTSB once their team reaches the scene, Coates said.
On Saturday night, the NTSB said it was dispatching a team to investigate the collision. The team, made up of technical experts who are regularly dispatched to plane crash sites, is expected to arrive on Sunday, the agency said.
According to Coates, the people who fly the aircraft at CAF air shows are volunteers and follow a rigorous training process. Many of them are airline pilots, retired airline pilots or retired military pilots.
“The maneuvers they (the plane) went through weren’t dynamic at all,” Coates noted. “That was what we call ‘Bombers on Parade’.”
“This isn’t about the plane. It just isn’t,” Coates said. “I can tell you the planes are great planes, they are safe. They are very well cared for. The pilots are very well trained. So it’s hard for me to talk about it because I know all these people, they’re family and they’re good friends.”
Mayor Johnson said in a tweet after the crash, “As many of you have now seen, today during an air show we witnessed a terrible tragedy in our city. Many details are currently unknown or unconfirmed.”
“The videos are heartbreaking. Please offer a prayer for the souls who have ascended to Heaven today to entertain and raise our families,” Johnson said in a separate tweet.
The Wings Over Dallas event, which was due to run through Sunday, has been canceled according to the promoter’s website.