Driver Racing Two Planes at 300mph Dies at Michigan Air Show in Massive Explosion

by Chris Haney

On Saturday, a jet truck driver involved in a pyrotechnic event at a Battle Creek, Michigan air show was killed in a stunt gone wrong. 40-year-old Chris Darnell was racing two planes going 300 mph when his truck blew up and became engulfed in flames. Police confirmed Darnell’s accidental death following the incident.

At a Glance

  • 40-year-old Chris Darnell died during the Battle Creek air show in Michigan on Saturday afternoon
  • His Shockwave Jet Truck went up in flames while racing two airplanes at 300 mph during a pyrotechnic stunt
  • Video from the incident shows an explosion occurring in front of the truck just before it traveled through flames and caught on fire

Darnell and two others were performing a dangerous stunt that’s part of the Battle Creek Field of Flight air show. Footage captured at the Michigan event shows the scenes as they develop during the pyrotechnic event. As Darnell races down the track in a Shockwave Jet Truck, two planes fly upside down just above him as they race at 300 mph.

As the 40-year-old driver heads down the track, footage shows the jet truck catch fire as he releases the vehicle’s parachute. The truck becomes engulfed in flames within seconds as black smoke billows out into the sky. The clip of the incident also shows a large explosion right in front of the truck before it barrels through it. The jet truck finally begins to slow down as it traveled out of the other side of the explosion, but it was too late for Darnell.

Suze Gusching with Field of Flight’s media relations spoke to the Battle Creek Enquirer after the tragic incident.

“[The driver] was doing his show and going down the runway,” Gusching said to the Battle Creek Enquirer. “He passed by the explosion, and his truck had exploded.”

Michigan Air Show Tragedy Under Investigation by Three Agencies

The Michigan air show took place at the airport as part of the Air Force’s 75th Anniversary celebrations. Officials canceled yesterday’s event following the incident that took Chris Darnell’s life. Yet all other Field of Flight events are currently scheduled to proceed as planned.

The driver was part of Darnell Racing Enterprise’s show team, which is based out of Springfield, Missouri. The team has three special trucks that make appearances at similar air shows and other events across the U.S. The team owns the Shockwave Jet Truck that Darnell drove yesterday, along with the Aftershock Jet Fire truck and the Flash Fire Jet Truck.

A Shockwave truck features three Pratt & Whitney J34-38 jet engines, according to the team’s website. The engines were originally used by the U.S. Navy’s T-2 Buckeye planes. They produce a whopping 36,000 horsepower and provide 21,000 pounds of thrust, which allows the Shockwave truck to reach upward of 350 mph. 

There are no further details at this time as to what went wrong with the stunt at the Michigan air show. But Battle Creek Fire and Police Departments and the Federal Aviation Administration are currently investigating the incident.