Two World War II-era planes collided in midair Saturday afternoon in a deadly crash at the Wings Over Dallas Airshow at the Dallas Executive Airport.
The planes involved were a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and a Bell P-63 Kingcobra, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA said the two planes collided and crashed to the ground around 1:20 p.m.
Officials have not confirmed the number of fatalities or the extent of any injuries but said the B-17 had a crew of four or five people, while the Kingcobra was flown by a single pilot. No paying customers were on board.
The Allied Pilots Association said in a tweet Saturday night that two of its former members were killed on board the B-17. The pilots association, which is the union that represents American Airlines pilots, identified the crew members as Terry Barker and Len Root.
“Our hearts go out to their families, friends, and colleagues past and present,” the tweet read.
The president of the Dallas-based Commemorative Air Force, which hosted the show and owned and operated the planes, said at a press conference shortly before 5 p.m. that he could not release the number or names of people who were on the planes’ manifests or their status until all next of kin have been notified and the NTSB approves the release of the information.
“At this time, it is unknown how many people were on both aircraft,” the FAA said in its statement earlier Saturday afternoon. “The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate. The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and will provide additional updates.”
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said there were no reports of injuries to spectators or other people on the ground. The debris field from the crash extended from the airport grounds to Highway 67 and a nearby strip mall, Johnson wrote in a tweet.
Videos taken by witnesses and posted to social media appear to show the smaller plane hit the back of the B-17 as it made a turn. The planes broke apart as they fell to the ground, followed by a fiery explosion and clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky.
Leah Block, the spokesperson for the Commemorative Air Force, which is dedicated to preserving World War II aircraft and hosts the air show, said they aren’t sure why the accident occurred. Officials from the NTSB were planning to arrive at the airport Saturday night and Block said they will probably start the investigation Sunday.
The Dallas Executive Airport is in the 5300 block of Challenger Drive near U.S. Highway 67 in Redbird, about 10 miles southwest of downtown Dallas. According to Star-Telegram media partner WFAA-TV, sources reported seeing debris falling on Highway 67. A section of the highway was closed for several hours.
Live TV news footage from the scene showed people setting up orange cones around the crumpled wreckage of the planes, which was in a grassy area.
According to Block, both of the vintage military planes came from Houston. A Facebook page about the plane identified the B-17 as the one named Texas Raiders, which the Commemorative Air Force website calls “one of the most recognized and popular warbirds.” Out of the 12,731 B-17s built by the U.S., it was one of only five that were still flying.
At the press conference, Commemorative Air Force President and CEO Hank Coates said the organization has over 180 aircraft around the world that appear at shows.
“The maneuvers that they were going through were not dynamic at all,” Coates said. “It was what we call bombers on parade.”
The crew are volunteers who are vetted carefully and trained thoroughly, he said, and many of them are retired military or airline pilots with decades of experience. He said the aircraft are “very well-maintained.”
Coates said counseling is being provided for the families of the crew members as well as witnesses and first responders.
Block told reporters that there were about 4,000 spectators at the event, and the collision occurred farther down the flight line, so it wasn’t directly in front of the crowd.
In a tweet, Johnson, the Dallas mayor, called the crash a “terrible tragedy in our city.”
“The videos are heartbreaking,” Johnson tweeted. “Please, say a prayer for the souls who took to the sky to entertain and educate our families today.”
Anthony Montoya told the Associated Press that he saw the two planes collide.
“I just stood there. I was in complete shock and disbelief,” said Montoya, 27, who attended the air show with a friend. “Everybody around was gasping. Everybody was bursting into tears. Everybody was in shock.”
Victoria Yeager, the widow of famed Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager and herself a pilot, was also at the show. She didn’t see the collision, but did see the burning wreckage.
“It was pulverized,” said Yeager, 64, who lives in Fort Worth.
“We were just hoping they had all gotten out, but we knew they didn’t,” she said of those on board.
“It was really horrific to see,” said Aubrey Anne Young, 37, of Leander, who also 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.
Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans told the Dallas Morning News that firefighters were already at the air show in case of emergencies and were able to get to the crash site quickly.
Saturday was supposed to be the second day of a three-day air show for Veterans Day weekend, but Friday’s events were canceled due to rain. Wings Over Dallas bills itself as “America’s Premier World War II Airshow,” according to a website advertising the event. Guests were to see more than 40 World War II-era aircraft.
The show’s Saturday afternoon schedule featured flying demonstrations including a “bomber parade” and “fighter escorts” with the B-17 and P-63.
Safety at air shows and competitions — 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 at the Reno Air Races competition. In 2019, a B-17 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.
Block told reporters that nothing like this has happened during the 14 years she’s been with the Commemorative Air Force. This was the seventh year the show had been held in Dallas.
Videos of previous Wings Over Dallas events depict vintage warplanes flying low, sometimes in close formation, on simulated strafing or bombing runs. The videos also show the planes performing aerobatic stunts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This story was originally published November 12, 2022 2:53 PM.