Six people are dead after two World War II-era military planes collided in midair and crashed at Dallas Executive Airport during an airshow Saturday afternoon, killing all on board, the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office said Sunday.
“We can confirm that there are six (fatalities),” a spokesperson for the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office told CNN in a phone call.
More than 40 fire rescue units responded to the scene after the two vintage planes – a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and a Bell P-63 Kingcobra – went down during the Wings Over Dallas airshow.
In video footage of the crash that was described by Dallas’ mayor as “heartbreaking,” the planes are seen breaking apart 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 Sunday.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the crash took place at around 1:20 pm Saturday.
The Allied Pilots Association – the labor union representing American Airlines pilots – has identified two pilot retirees 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 said 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 their headquarters in Fort Worth following the incident.
The death of Barker, a former city council member for Keller, Texas, was also announced by Keller Mayor Armin Mizani on Sunday morning in a Facebook post.
“Keller is grieving as we have come to learn that husband, father, Army veteran, and former Keller City Councilman Terry Barker was one of the victims of the tragic crash at the Dallas Air Show,” Mizani wrote.
“Terry Barker was loved by many. He was a friend and someone whose guidance I often sought. Even after retiring from serving on the City Council and flying for American Airlines, his love for community was unmistakable.”
A 30-year plus veteran of the Civil Air Patrol’s Ohio Wing, Maj. Curtis J. Rowe, was also among those killed in the collision, Col. Pete Bowden, the agency’s commander, said on Sunday.
Rowe served in several positions throughout his tenure with the Civil Air Patrol, from safety officer to operations officer, and most recently, he was the Ohio Wing maintenance officer, Bowden said. Rowe’s family was notified of his death Saturday evening, the commander added.
“I reach to find solace in that when great aviators like Curt perish, they do so doing what they loved. Curt touched the lives of thousands of his fellow CAP members, especially the cadets whom he flew during orientation flights or taught at Flight Academies and for that, we should be forever grateful,” Bowden wrote in a Facebook post.
“To a great aviator, colleague, and Auxiliary Airman, farewell,” he said.
In a Saturday news conference, Hank Coates, president and CEO of the Commemorative Air Force, an organization which preserves and maintains vintage military aircraft, told reporters that the B-17 “normally has a crew of four to five. That was what was on the aircraft,” while the P-63 is a “single-piloted fighter type aircraft.”
The Commemorative Air Force identified both aircraft as based in Houston.
No spectators or others on the ground were reported injured, although the debris field from the collision includes the Dallas Executive Airport grounds, Highway 67 and a nearby strip mall.
The B-17 was part of the collection of the Commemorative Air Force, nicknamed “Texas Raiders,” and had been kept in a hanger in Conroe, Texas, near Houston.
It was one of about 45 complete surviving examples of the model, only nine of which were airworthy.
The P-63 was even rarer. Some 14 examples are known to survive, four of which in the US were airworthy, 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 most of the rest scrapped by the early 1960s. About 3,300 P-63’s were produced by Bell Aircraft between 1943 and 1945, and were mainly used by the Soviet Air Force in World War II.
The FAA was leading the investigation into the air show crash on Saturday, but the NTSB took over the investigation once its team reached the scene, the agency said at a news conference Sunday. The team dispatched by the NTSB consists of technical experts who are regularly sent to plane crash sites to investigate the collision, according to the NTSB.
“Our team methodically and systematically reviews all evidence and considers all potential factors to determine the probable cause, NTSB member Michael Graham said.
Investigators have started securing the audio recordings from the air traffic control tower and conducting interviews of the other formation crews and air show operations, according to Graham.
Neither aircraft was equipped with a flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder, often known as the “black box,” he added.
Investigators surveyed the accident site using both an NTSB drone and a photograph of the scene from the ground to document the area before the wreckage was moved to a secure location, Graham said. A preliminary accident report is expected four to six weeks, but a full investigation may last 12 to 18 months before a final report is released.
Graham appealed to witnesses saying if anyone has any photos or videos of the incident, they should share them with the NTSB.
“They’ll actually be very critical since we don’t have any flight data recorder data or cockpit voice recorders or anything like that. [those devices],” Graham said. “They’ll be very critical to analyze the collision and also tie that in with the aircraft control recordings to determine why the two aircraft collided and to determine, basically, the how and why this accident happened and then eventually, hopefully, maybe make some safety recommendations to prevent it from happening in the future.”
According to Coates, the individuals flying the aircraft in CAF airshows are volunteers and follow a strict training process. Many of them are airline pilots, retired airline pilots or retired military pilots.
“The maneuvers that they (the aircraft) were going through were not dynamic at all,” Coates noted. “It was what we call ‘Bombers on Parade.’
“This is not about the aircraft. It’s just not,” Coates said. “I can tell you the aircraft are great aircraft, they’re safe. They’re very well-maintained. The pilots are very well-trained. So it’s difficult for me to talk about it, because I know all these people, these are family, and they’re good friends.”
Mayor Johnson said in a tweet after the crash, “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 videos are heartbreaking. Please, say a prayer for the souls who took to the sky to entertain and educate our families today,” Johnson said in a separate tweet.
The Wings Over Dallas event, which was scheduled to run through Sunday, has been canceled, according to the organizer’s website.