DALLAS — The midair collision between two historic aircraft at a Dallas air show on Saturday killed six people, including two deeply loved Keller-area men who had been pilots for decades, according to officials and friends.
The collision involved two World War II-era planes, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and a Bell P-63 Kingcobra. No one on the ground was injured or killed.
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and Dallas Fire-Rescue were at the crash site Sunday at Dallas Executive Airport. They have not yet said what caused the crash.
Authorities have not publicly identified those killed, but aviation organizations they were involved with shared four of their names.
Allied Pilots, a union representing American Airlines pilots, identified two of the B-17 crew as former union members Terry Barker, 67, and Len Root, 66. Curtis Rowe, 64, of Hilliard, Ohio, also died in the crash, according to the Ohio Civil Air Patrol. An executive officer with the Commemorative Air Force airbase in Georgia identified a fourth person who died as former United Airlines pilot Craig Hutain, 63, of Montgomery, Texas.
‘A long process’
At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Michael Graham, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said the federal agency will “methodically and systematically” review all evidence and consider “all potential factors to determine probable cause.”
“This is the beginning of a long process,” Graham said. “We will not jump to any conclusions.”
The preliminary report of the accident can be expected in four to six weeks, Graham said, but the full investigation will last 12 to 18 months before the final report can be released. Thus far, Graham said his agency has started securing audio recordings from the air traffic control tower, surveyed and photographed the scene, and conducted interviews with formation crews and airshow operations.
The plane wreckage will soon be removed to a “secure location” to lay out both aircraft and examine the air frame and engines, as part of the agency’s standard process, according to Graham.
When asked if there was any indication whether the crash was caused by a mechanical or pilot-induced error, Graham said it was “too early to tell.” The agency will also examine airworthiness, operations, air traffic control and aircraft performance.
Graham asked anyone with videos or photos of the crash to share them with email@example.com.
“They will actually be very critical … to determine how and why this accident happened and eventually, hopefully, make some safety recommendations to prevent it from happening in the future,” Graham said.
Both Root and Barker were based around Keller, according to their friends and social media profiles.
Root worked as a commercial pilot and manager for Commemorative Air Force’s Gulf Coast Wing since October 2021, according to his LinkedIn page. Before that, he was a flight management system program controller and flight director for American Airlines for more than 35 years. He also studied aviation law and business at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Barker was a former Keller City Council member and Army veteran as well as a husband and father, the city’s mayor, Armin Mizani, posted on Facebook.
“Terry Barker was beloved by many,” Mizani wrote. “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.”
Mizani added that a Veterans Day display of 1,776 American flags will remain in front of Keller Town Hall an additional week in Barker’s honor.
John Baker, a former American Airlines colleague of Barker’s, said the two met several years ago while based out of DFW International Airport. Both were tech airmen instructor pilots conducting training until Barker retired about two years ago after 36 years with the airline.
Baker told The Dallas Morning News that Barker was a family man with a servant’s heart.
“He was really an enthusiast of aviation,” Baker said, adding that Barker had a hangar at Northwest Regional Airport in Denton County where he spent a lot of time refurbishing a Beechcraft AT-6.
After retirement, Barker got involved with the Commemorative Air Force and flying the B-17, Baker said.
“He had great people skills and communication skills,” Baker said. “He also had a great sense of humor and was very professional.”
Rowe, who was a major in the Ohio Civil Air Patrol, spent more than 30 years with the organization and “held every crew rating possible and earned his Command Pilot Rating,” Col. Pete Bowden, commander of the Air Patrol, said in a statement.
“Curt touched the lives of thousands of his fellow Civil Air Patrol members, especially when flying cadets during hundreds of orientation flights over the course of his service,” Bowden said.
In Hutain’s staff page for Tora Tora Tora Airshows, a reenactment of the Dec. 7, 1941, invasion of Pearl Harbor, Hutain said he first started flying with his father at just 10 years old. He flew solo for the first time at 17.
Hutain graduated from California Polytechnic State University in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering.
He promptly started flying for the airlines, starting with Rocky Mountain Airways and then United Airlines. Hutain began flying with both Tora and the Commemorative Air Force in 2009, according to the airshow’s website.
“It’s really a lifelong obsession for me,” Hutain said in a video interview with the Vintage Aviation News in July, standing in front of a P-63F.
Eric “Rick” Miller told The News he met Hutain in 2011 during a trip to the Vectren Dayton Air Show and said they kept in touch ever since, first connecting through their love of aviation and shared experiences as sons of men who served in World War II.
“Craig always made you feel like a lifelong friend,” Miller said, describing their friendship as “one of mutual respect for each other based on our love of keeping history alive.”
Show drew families, history buffs
The Wings Over Dallas air show was scheduled to run from Friday to Sunday at Dallas Executive Airport in the Redbird neighborhood of Dallas. It was canceled after Saturday’s collision.
The event billed itself as North Texas’ largest World War II air show. Thousands watched from the airfield and nearby businesses Saturday, including World War II and American military history buffs who were drawn to the show because only a small amount of aircraft from the war remain airborne today.
The flight demonstration portion of the show began about 11 a.m. Saturday, according to a schedule posted on the air show’s website. One listed event was described as a parade of several types of bombers, including the B-17.
The next item listed on the schedule was a fighter escort involving a P-63. It’s unclear from the schedule whether both events were to take place at the same time.
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was a workhorse bomber that saw combat in both theaters of World War II. More than 12,000 B-17s were produced in various models, according to Boeing. Most were scrapped after the war ended in 1945. Very few remain today.
P-63s were developed during World War II, but never saw combat use by American forces, according to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. More than 3,300 were produced. The aircraft was sometimes used for training, and several thousand were exported to the Soviet Union as part of a lend-lease agreement.
Video posted on social media shows the P-63 banking, and colliding directly with the B-17, which was flying straight. The impact immediately disintegrated the P-63 and split the B-17 in half, with the front half of the fuselage exploding in flames as it impacted the ground.
A memorial to the dead
Along the fence on the south side of the airport, near the intersection of Highway 67 and West Red Bird Lane, Roberto Marquez, a Mexican-born Dallas artist, set up the beginning stages of a memorial honoring the six aviators.
One by one, Marquez staked a hand-painted yellow, blue and red cross, adorned with American flags, ribbons and flowers, into the cold, stony soil. This process is “like second nature,” he says, methodically picking out a brush and a palette of stark, white paint, adding the names of the confirmed dead — Barker, Root, Hutain and Rowe — to each cross.
Tragedy after tragedy, Marquez has used his art to create memorials and murals all over the world. This year alone, he recalled a trip to war-stricken Ukraine in March, then to Uvalde in May, when 19 children and two teachers were killed in the deadliest school shooting in state history, and another trip to San Antonio in June, after 53 migrants were found dead in a tractor-trailer.
“I feel good doing it,” he told The News. “It’s special when people come, and they feel it’s a safe place to cry, to get together, to trust with pictures and flowers. It’s moving to witness, and it’s a gift to be part of the healing, however small.”