Two historic military planes collided and crashed to the ground in a ball of flames during a Dallas air show, leaving six people dead, officials said.
National transportation officials were investigating the cause of Saturday’s collision, which came three years after the crash of a World War II-era bomber in Connecticut that killed seven, and amid ongoing concern about the safety of air shows involving older warplanes.
Emergency crews raced to the crash scene at the Dallas Executive Airport, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the city’s downtown. News footage from the scene showed crumpled wreckage of the planes in a grassy area inside the airport perimeter.
The in-air collision during the Wings over Dallas air show claimed six lives, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins tweeted Sunday, citing the county medical examiner. Authorities are continuing to work to identify the victims, he said. It was not clear if there were any injuries or fatalities on the ground. Dallas Fire-Rescue told The Dallas Morning News there were no reports of injuries there.
Anthony Montoya 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.”
Officials did not specify how many people were inside each plane, but Hank Coates, president of the company that put on the air show, said one of the planes, a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, typically has a crew of four to five people. The other, a P-63 Kingcobra fighter plane, has a single pilot.
No paying customers were on the aircraft, said Coates, of Commemorative Air Force, which also owned the planes. The aircraft are flown by highly trained volunteers, often retired pilots, he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board took control of the crash scene, with local police and fire providing support, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said. The Federal Aviation Administration also was going to investigate, officials said.
“The videos are heartbreaking,” Johnson said on Twitter.
The planes collided and crashed about 1:20 p.m., the FAA said in a statement.
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.
The B-17, a cornerstone of U.S. air power during World War II, is an immense four-engine bomber used in daylight raids against Germany. 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 social media 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 spectator Aubrey Anne Young, 37, of Leander, Texas. Her children were inside the hangar with their father when it happened. “I’m still trying to make sense of it.”
A woman next to Young can be heard crying and screaming 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 NTSB said then that it had investigated 21 crashes 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 Nov. 11-13, Veterans Day weekend, and guests were to see more than 40 World War II-era aircraft. Its Saturday afternoon schedule of flying demonstrations included the “bomber parade” and “fighter escorts” that featured the B-17 and P-63.
Arthur Alan Wolk is a Philadelphia aviation attorney who flew in air shows for 12 years. After watching the air show video and hearing the maneuvers described as “bombers on parade,” Wolk told The Associated Press on Sunday that the P-63 pilot violated the basic rule of formation flying.
“He went belly up to the leader,” Wolk said. “That prevents him from gauging distance and position. The risk of collision is very high when you cannot see who you are supposed to be in formation with and that kind of joinup is not permitted.”
He added, “I am not blaming anyone and to the greatest extent possible, air shows, the pilots and the aircraft that fly in them are safe. Air shows are one of the largest spectator events in America and it is rare that a tragedy like this occurs.”
Wolk said it takes extensive training and discipline to fly in an air show setting. The air show qualifications of the P-63 pilot are not known.
Bobby Caina Calvan in New York City, Ken Miller in Oklahoma City and Dave Kolpack in Fargo, North Dakota, contributed to this report.