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Six dead after two planes collide in fiery midflight crash at World War II air show in Dallas

Dallas County’s CEO said the planes collided at the Wings Over Dallas Airshow on Saturday afternoon.
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Six people were killed when two historic military planes collided and crashed to the ground Saturday afternoon at 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,” Clay Jenkins, the judge, or CEO, of Dallas County, tweeted Sunday. He said authorities continue 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 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. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said the 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 have just a pilot, Hank Coates, the 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.

Coates said that because families must be notified of any deaths and because federal investigators have taken jurisdiction, he was unable to make manifests or information about deaths 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 that the planes are meticulously maintained and that not only are the pilots experienced — often from the worlds of passenger jets or military flight or both — but also that CAF does its own vetting and preparation.

"There is a very strict process of vetting and training," Coates said.

The show was in its seventh year in Dallas, where at least 4,000 were on hand Saturday, organizers said.

Johnson said the National Transportation Safety Board will take command of the scene and the investigation. Coates said the NTSB was expected to take command 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 on Twitter. "Many details remain unknown or unconfirmed at this time." 

Emergency crews raced to the scene at Dallas Executive Airport, about 10 miles from downtown.

Live TV news coverage showed people setting up orange cones around the crumpled wreckage of the bomber, which was in a grassy area.

Videos showing the aftermath, recorded by an onlooker, show smoke and flames billowing above the crash site.

Photos, one of them shared by NBC Dallas-Fort Worth, show a cloud of smoke over the site where the planes landed after having collided 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, who was at the air show with a friend, saw the planes collide.

“I just stood there. I was in complete shock and disbelief,” he said. “Everybody around was gasping. Everybody was bursting into tears. Everybody was in shock.”

The planes involved were replicas and did not see combat in World War II, 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, 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,” said Aubrey Anne Young, 37, of Leander, Texas, who saw the crash. Her children were in 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 Facebook.

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 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 Friday through Sunday, Veterans Day weekend, and guests were to see more than 40 World War II-era aircraft. Sunday's show has been canceled.

Coates, the organizer, said the maneuvers being carried out before the collision were not complicated. He said such an accident is "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 families are notified with the approval of the NTSB.