Wednesday, March 29

Battle Creek air show honors driver killed in crash

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — The Field of Flight Air Show & Balloon Festival continued in Battle Creek Sunday, a day after a jet truck driver died during a fiery crash at the show.

The entire day was dedicated to remembering 40-year-old Chris Darnell and supporting his family.

“It was quite moving to see that for him,” Wendy Fain said.

The air show kicked off around 12:30 p.m. Sunday with a missing man formation flight. Four civilian aircrafts took part in memory and honor of Darnell.

The Thunderbirds also dedicated their show to Darnell, even adding his name to the lead Thunderbird plane as tribute.

“I’ve watched him perform over and over and over, and his whole family. I’ve never seen anything out here like that. You Just don’t expect that,” Don Verhoeven said of Saturday’s crash. “Today, what the Thunderbirds did especially and the missing man formation, the whole crowd was quiet.”

People who attended the show could also contribute to Darnell’s family by dropping their donations in buckets set up at the show’s admission gates and beer tents.

(An air show visitor donates to Chris Darnell’s family a day after the crash that killed him.)
A photo of Chris Darnell (Courtesy Joseph W. Mancy)

“Remembering him was our big focus today,” said air show spokesperson Brett Bailey. “Last night we had two bands that set up donation jars and they raised over $2,000 for the Darnell family.”

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Darnell was a lifelong motorsports enthusiast and experienced racer. According to his bio on the SHOCKWAVE Jet Truck website, Darnell had competed in different types of racing throughout his life and owned a Truck Accessory Company called 4 Wheel Customs. He shared duties with his father driving the SHOCKWAVE Jet Trucks.

The deadly crash happened around 1:10 p.m. Saturday at the Battle Creek Executive Airport during the SHOCKWAVE Jet Truck pyrotechnic portion of the air show, according to the Battle Creek Police Department in a release.

Drivers and pilots were performing Field of Flight activities, which features pyrotechnics, aircraft performing aerial stunts, and the SHOCKWAVE Jet Truck racing them over 300 mph down the airport runway. During this maneuver, the jet truck flipped off the runway and caught fire.

A July 2, 2022 photo shows the crash at the Battle Creek air show. (Photo courtesy: Daniel Strauss)

In a Saturday post to the SHOCKWAVE Jet Truck Facebook page, Darnell’s dad stated the accident happened because of a “mechanical failure on the Jet Truck.”

The Federal Aviation Administration, Battle Creek police and fire departments are continuing to investigate the incident.

A group is planning a vigil Monday at 1 p.m. starting at Meijer on Columbia Ave. in Battle Creek.

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