PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — Nobody knew that the Boeing B-17 was going to take off for the last time over the weekend in Dallas.
On Saturday, the B-17 collided with another World War II-era aircraft — a Bell P-63 Kingcobra — during a Dallas, Texas air show, killing all six Commemorative Air Force crew members on board as the planes burst into flames.
The B-17 had a storied career following its military usage in World War II. It made a lot of stops along the way, including the tarmac of the Air Zoo.
The four-prop ‘Flying Fortress’ had a four-day layover in August 2018, when Commemorative Air Force crew members landed at Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport and taxied over to the Air Zoo. While it was short, it was memorable for Air Zoo staff, visitors and aviation enthusiasts who were treated to the flying museum and its stories from its role in the second World War.
Air Zoo President and CEO Tony Thrash was in disbelief when he saw Saturday’s footage from spectators circulating on social media.
“At first, I thought ‘What’s this? It’s something from a long time ago’ or something,” Thrash said. “But then, when I realized that it did happen on that day, it was really difficult to fathom.”
The crew who flew the vintage bird during the 2018 Air Zoo visit were not the ones airborne during Saturday’s deadly collision, but Thrash says it still hurts for everyone in the industry.
“It’s devastating, certainly,” Thrash said. “When I think about the global military aviation community, these crew members were family, they were friends. … It’s still a very tough loss.”
Thrash says the old age of these aircraft will make piecing together what exactly happened difficult for investigators.
“There is a lot to figure out,” Thrash explained. “It’s going to take quite a while, because there were no data recorders and there were no black boxes. … (It’s) really left to the experts at this point. I don’t really see us and other museum partners and things like that being a part of anything except really just reaching out and saying, ‘We are here for you in any way that we can be.'”
Thrash said they are waiting to see how they can directly help out the families of the crew members who died, and the Commemorative Air Force as a whole.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation, has yet to publicly disclose what exactly led up to the collision.