Jet truck driver dies in Michigan air show accident

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — A man driving a jet-powered semi truck at a Michigan air show was killed Saturday when his vehicle caught fire and crashed, authorities said.

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Chris Darnell, 40, died when his Shockwave Jet Truck, traveling 300 mph down a runway at the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival, crashed at about 1:10 p.m. EDT, MLive.com reported. The Battle Creek Fire Department also confirmed Darnell’s death in a Facebook post.

The custom-built race truck was equipped with three jet engines and a combined 36,000 horsepower, The New York Times reported. The crash took place during the show’s pyrotechnic portion when planned explosions were going off, according to The Washington Post.

“Chris had a crash, and the jet truck flipped over, and, unfortunately, he did not live,” Barbara Haluszka, the executive director of the festival, told the newspaper in a telephone interview on Saturday night. “All other details are 100% under investigation.”

Darnell was racing two planes at the Battle Creek Executive Airport when he crashed, WWMT-TV reported. It was part of the air show’s pyrotechnics and aircraft aerial stunts, WOOD-TV reported. Darnell’s jet truck flipped off the runway and burst into flames, according to the television station.

Video of the performance shows Darnell driving past an explosion on the runway then his truck catches fire and appears to roll.

“All of a sudden, you just sort of (see) this raging fireball going down the runway, and this ball of debris,” Brandon Lacic, who was with his family watching the air show, told WOOD. “One of my children looked up and said, ‘Dad, was that part of the act?’ And I said ‘I don’t think so. This is bad.’”

According to his biography on the Shockwave Jet Truck website, Darnell competed in different types of racing and owned a Truck Accessory Company called 4 Wheel Customs. He shared duties with his father driving the Shockwave Jet Trucks.

Darnell’s father, Neal Darnell, said in a statement that the accident was “a result of mechanical failure on the Jet Truck.”

“We are so sad. Just one month ago Chris turned 40. He was so well-loved by everyone who knew him,” Neal Darnell said. “Chris so loved the air show business. He was ‘living the dream,’ as he said.”

Field of Flight is the country’s largest combined air show and balloon festival, WWMT reported. It features some of the world’s best pilots to mark the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force.

The rest of Saturday’s events were canceled. The show is scheduled to resume on Sunday, according to the television station.