Jet Truck driver dies in accident at Michigan air show

The driver of a jet-powered semitruck died when the vehicle crashed in a fiery accident in Michigan on Saturday, police said.

Battle Creek police identified the victim as Chris Darnell, 40, who was behind the wheel of the Shockwave Jet Truck when it raced through or by an explosion and appeared to be in flames, producing a streak of smoke and debris recorded on video.

It wasn’t clear if that first burst of flames, which created a cloud of black smoke, was part of the expected display at the annual Battle Creek Field of Light Air Show and Balloon Festival. The state government’s website promotes the event and notes that it features “pyro and the WALL OF FIRE.”

Two prop planes were performing aerial tricks and flying low above the truck as it raced down a runway at the Battle Creek Executive Airport when the accident happened.

In a post on the Jet Truck Facebook page, Darnell’s father, Neal Darnell, blamed mechanical failure for the accident.

“We are so sad,” Darnell said in the post. “Just one month ago Chris turned 40. He was so well loved by everyone who knew him. Chris so loved the Air Show business. He was ‘Living the Dream’ as he said.”

The truck was created by the late Les Shockley, said to be the pioneer of jet trucks, and operated by the Darnell’s since 2012, according to the International Council of Air Shows. The vehicle is based on a 1985 Peterbilt and powered by three J-34 jet engines, according to the council.

The semitruck is said to be able to exceed 300 mph. Chris Darnell claimed to hold the jet truck speed record, 375 mph, achieved in his team’s Flash Fire jet-modified pickup in 2005 in Florida.

No other injuries were reported following the crash, reported shortly after 1 pm Saturday.

Police said organizers canceled the rest of the day’s air show but that other festivities would continue as scheduled through the festival’s end Monday.

The event also includes music performances and fireworks.

Battle Creek police, fire and the Federal Aviation Administration were investigating the crash and the cause, police said.

Michelle Acevedo contributed.

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