Victims in collision of WWII planes identified

Decades of aviation experience bind together the six men killed in a tragic mid-air collision…

Victims in collision of WWII planes identified

Decades of aviation experience bind together the six men killed in a tragic mid-air collision between two vintage aircraft in Texas this weekend.

The Commemorative Air Force non-profit named the victims as Terry Barker, Leonard Root, Curtis Rowe, Craig Hutain, Dan Ragan and Kevin Michels.

All six men were aboard the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Bell P-63 Kingcobra that struck each other and exploded.

Federal and local investigators are probing the cause of the incident.

The B-17 and P-63 were part of flying demonstrations on Saturday as part of Wings Over Dallas, a Veteran’s Day weekend event billed as “America’s Premier World War II Airshow”.

No one on the ground in the Dallas Executive Airport area was injured or killed, but show organisers cancelled the final day of activities on Sunday as a show of respect for the affected families.

A preliminary report on the accident is expected within four to six weeks, but a full investigation may take a year or more, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

Here is what we know about the victims:

Terry Barker

Victims in collision of WWII planes identified

Terry Barker

Barker, 67, worked for American Airlines as an instructor pilot for 36 years and flew helicopters while serving in the US Army.

In his spare time, he built and refurbished an aerobatic biplane called the Beechcraft AT-6, once describing the activity as being “like a postman taking a walk on his day off”.

A husband and father, Barker also served two terms on the city council in Keller, some 32 miles (50km) from Dallas.

The city’s mayor Armin Mizani wrote on Facebook that Barker was “a friend and someone whose guidance I often sought”.

“Terry Barker was beloved by many,” Mayor Mizani said. “Even after retiring from serving on the city council and flying for American Airlines, his love for community was unmistakable.”

Leonard Root

Leonard Root

Leonard Root

Like Barker, Len Root, 66, spent nearly four decades with American Airlines, where he was a flight management system programme controller and flight director.

Since last year, he was a commercial pilot and manager for Commemorative Air Force’s Gulf Coast Wing, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The Allied Pilots Association, a labour union representing American Airlines pilots, said it was saddened to hear of Barker and Root’s deaths.

“Our hearts go out to their families, friends, and colleagues past and present,” the union said in a statement on Saturday night.

Curtis Rowe

Curtis Rowe

Curtis Rowe

Another crew member on the B-17 bomber was its mechanic – Major Curt Rowe, a resident of Hilliard, Ohio and a former Air National Guardsman.

Rowe, 64, served in the Ohio wing of the Civil Air Patrol, an official civilian auxiliary of the US Air Force, for more than three decades.

Colonel Peter Bowden, commander of the Ohio Wing, wrote on Facebook that Rowe had “touched the lives of thousands of his fellow Civil Air Patrol members”.

“I reach to find solace in that when great aviators like Curt perish, they do so doing what they loved,” Bowden said.

Rowe’s cousin Tom told the local WSYX TV station the family was in shock over his passing.

“You always counted on a good laugh when you were around him,” he said.

Craig Hutain

Craig Hutain

Craig Hutain

Hutain, 63, was flying the single-seat P-63 warbird, which he has described as “an honour and a privilege to fly”.

He started flying with his World War II veteran father when he was just 10 years old. By age 17, he was flying solo.

With a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering under his belt, he flew commercial flights for both Rocky Mountain Airways and United Airlines.

The Montgomery, Texas native has flown for the Tora Tora Tora airshow – a re-enactment of the 1941 attack at Pearl Harbour – since 2009, as well as with the Commemorative Air Force in Georgia.

In interviews earlier this year, Hutain said that aviation was his “lifelong obsession” and airshows were a chance for him to “try to create history lessons” for spectators.

He leaves behind a wife of 20 years, two adult children and four grandchildren.

Dan Ragan

Dan Ragan

Dan Ragan

Ragan, 88, was a colonel in the US Navy. He worked as a combat radio operator during the Korean War and had patrol duties over Japan.

In an interview with the Longview News-Journal last year, Ragan said he offered rides to the public on the same plane he once flew successful missions on.

“When I first got back on the plane, I was a kid in the candy store,” he told the newspaper.

Flying the plane again was “beautiful”, he said, because it reminded him of his late brother, who was also a B-17 pilot.

The Tulsa, Oklahoma native reportedly served on the B-17 plane that crashed on Saturday when it was part of a naval squad back in 1955, according to the Guardian.

Kevin Michels

Kevin Michels

Kevin Michels

Friends knew Michels, 42, as “K5”.

He worked on many roles with the Commemorative Air Force flight crew, including historian, media representative and tour supervisor.

For years, he worked to educate people about the historic B-17 aircraft, a four-engine bomber that was integral to US air operations during WWII.