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One dead after ‘jet truck’ crash at Michigan air show, police say

One person was killed after a jet-powered truck caught fire and crashed racing two planes at a Battle Creek, Michigan airshow on July 2. (Video: Michael Mullet, Photo: Michael Mullet/Michael Mullet)

The driver of a semitruck powered by jet engines that was racing two planes died after crashing at an air show in Battle Creek, Mich., on Saturday afternoon.

The Battle Creek Police Department confirmed on Facebook that Chris Darnell, 40, the driver of the Shockwave Jet Truck, died in the crash at the Battle Creek Executive Airport, which is under investigation.

The Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival’s Facebook page said the rest of the day’s aircraft show had been canceled. A fireworks show and carnival planned for the evening were to continue, and the air show was to resume Sunday.

The crash took place during the show’s pyrotechnic portion when planned explosions were going off. The crash appeared to be accidental, according to attendee Michael Mullet.

Mullet said that as the truck — which is powered by three jet engines mounted on the back — sped down the runway, he saw a small explosion toward the rear of the vehicle shortly before it drove past the flames from one of the pyrotechnic explosions.

Videos shot by Mullet and other witnesses show that by the time the truck emerges from behind the flames, it appears to be skidding before rolling several times.

Send some prayers for the driver of the Shockwave Jet Truck.It just crashed at Battle Creek air show Edit, no updates yet on who was driving the truck and how he’s doing. Video was from our son Michael, we were still on our way there. Update: Rest in peace Chris Darnell🙏 Thank you for the many memories 🙏🙏 This was always the highlight of the air shows for me.

Posted by LaVern Mullet on Saturday, July 2, 2022

Mullet said he “didn’t see any relation” between the pyrotechnic explosion and the small explosion on the Shockwave. He said he has seen the jet truck in shows several times before, when everything would go off “without a hitch.”

Suze Gusching, a spokesperson for the air show, told the Battle Creek Enquirer that the truck driver was “doing his show and going down the runway,” then “he passed by the explosion, and his truck had exploded.”

Darnell was one of three drivers, including his father, for the Darnell Racing Enterprises team, which owns three jet trucks and performs at shows across the country, according to the team’s website. Darnell’s wife and mother-in-law help run the team.

The Darnell Racing website advertises Shockwave as “the world’s only triple engine jet truck,” a modified semi equipped with three engines originally from a U.S. Navy plane, giving it 36,000 horsepower. It can travel at more than 350 miles per hour and frequently races planes at air shows, the website said.

Darnell had been involved with motorsports all his life, as a producer of events and a competitor, and owned a truck accessory company, according to the website. He was a graduate of Missouri State University.

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The five-day show over the holiday weekend is scheduled to feature the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, as well as demonstrations of the Navy and Air Force’s newest jet, the F-35 Lightning II.

The Thunderbirds posted on Facebook that Darnell had performed alongside them for many years and was a “a staple of the Air Show community.”

“His love for motorsports and passion for his craft always inspired us and those around him,” it said.