Stunt truck with jet engines crashes at Michigan air show, killing driver

Jul 5, 2022, 12:37 PM | Updated: 3:12 pm

The SHOCKWAVE jet truck at Hill Air Force Base during the 2022 Warrior over the Wasatch Air and Spa...

The SHOCKWAVE jet truck at Hill Air Force Base during the 2022 Warrior over the Wasatch Air and Space Show at Hill Air Force Base. (Derek Petersen/KSL TV)

(Derek Petersen/KSL TV)

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — A jet-powered stunt truck spun out of control and crashed at an air show in Battle Creek, Michigan, killing the driver, according to police and footage of the incident.

In a statement, Battle Creek police identified Chris Darnell, 40, as the driver of the SHOCKWAVE Jet Truck, a custom-built semi-truck equipped with three jet engines, which was racing down the runway at the Battle Creek Executive Airport at more than 300 mph.

Darnell performed in last month’s Warriors Over The Wasatch Air and Space Show at Hill Air Force Base. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds said Darnell “has been performing alongside (them) for many years and has been a staple of the Air Show community.”

“His love for motorsports and passion for his craft always inspired us and those around him,” they said in a Facebook post. “The collective hearts of the U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds are with Chris, his family, his friends, and his entire demonstration team at this time.”

The crash occurred around 1:10 p.m. Saturday “during the pyrotechnic portion” of the show at the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival, police said earlier.

Video shot by air show attendee Mike Westra showed the truck racing two planes, speeding down the runway before spinning and crashing. Another video shows a parachute deploying behind the truck right before the crash.

A thick plume of black smoke and fire seen in the videos were part of the show’s pyrotechnic display and not related to the accident, Westra told CNN. In the videos, the smoke and fire are seen before the truck loses control.

Emergency responders were at the airport on standby and quickly responded, Westra said. “Within a minute or two they were putting water on the fire,” Westra added.

Westra saw the charred wreckage once the fire was put out, he said, telling CNN, “It came to rest upside down.”

The accident is under investigation by the police department and the Battle Creek Fire Department, police said.

The remainder of the air show Saturday was canceled following the crash, according to a post on the festival’s Facebook page.

The SHOCKWAVE Jet Truck is capable of reaching speeds in excess of 350 mph, according to the company’s website. Per the site, the truck was driven by Darnell and owned by Darnell Racing Enterprises of Springfield, Missouri.

In a statement, Darnell’s father, Neal Darnell, confirmed his youngest son had died, writing the accident occurred “as a result of mechanical failure.”

“We are so sad,” Neal Darnell wrote. “Just one month ago Chris turned 40. He was so well loved by everyone who knew him. Chris so loved the Air Show business.”

The air show resumed on Sunday, with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds dedicating the show “to our friend and colleague, Chris Darnell.”

“Chris and his SHOCKWAVE Jet Truck brought smiles and joy to millions of fans around the country,” the Thunderbirds said. “Though the truck was loud, Chris’ passion and commitment to inspiring those around him was louder.”

KSL TV contributed to this report.

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Stunt truck with jet engines crashes at Michigan air show, killing driver