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Father laments son's loss in Battle Creek Field of Flight accident

Jet truck driver was killed in fiery explosion Saturday afternoon
Field of Flight
Posted at 2:14 PM, Jul 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-04 07:49:56-04

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — One person died at the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival Saturday after an accident. Now, investigators are trying to piece together what happened.

Field of Flight Explosion

The Battle Creek Police Department says the accident happened around 1:10 p.m., during the pyrotechnic part of the show.

Field of Flight told FOX 17 Saturday evening that Chris Darnell lost his life in the accident.

The city of Battle Creek says Darnell, 40, was driving the SHOCKWAVE Jet Truck during the show, when it burst into flames.

"When the engine blew, we've got a video of it and we were playing it back. It looked like it blew off the rear tires and, when that happened, that caused the truck to go sideways. And when the truck went sideways, it tipped up on its side, and it flew at least 300-feet through the air sideways, looking right up, the afterburners of the engine. And then it hit and started to roll and burst into flames. That was bad," Russ Blake, an air show attendee, told FOX 17.

"It's an absolute tragedy. It's going to be hard to get over it, and it's, it's so, so new, fresh, unreal. I don't know. I can't put words on it right now. I just feel for the family," said Ryan Traver, Field of Flight board member.

The Darnell family is a staple at air shows across the nation. According to the team's website, Shockwave has three jet engines that can get the truck over 350 miles per hour.

Late Saturday night, Neal Darnell posted the following on the Shockwave Jet Truck & Flash Fire Jet Trucks Facebook page: "During today’s SHOCKWAVE Jet Truck performance at the Battlecreek Field of Flight Airshow an accident occurred as a result of a mechanical failure on the Jet Truck. Regretfully Chris Darnell the driver and my youngest son passed away from his injuries at approximately 1:01 pm. No one else was involved... We are so sad. 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."

Chris' father also posted the following on his own Facebook page Sunday morning: "Marilyn and I and Brooke, Reese and Taylor have been overwhelmed with all the condolences sent from all around the country. Literally thousands of you have reached out. We wish we could personally answer every single one. We have lost our youngest son Chris in an accident doing what he loved; performing with SHOCKWAVE. Chris so loved life and his huge Air Show and Drag Racing Family. And what a Family Man he was to his wife Brooke and his two daughters Reese and Taylor. He was so proud of their Sports accomplishments. Just weeks ago they had completed their new Dream Home. A long 2 year project involving their entire Family. They thought they were set for life. Such a beautiful place. He had so much to live for. Life isn’t fair sometimes and we all wonder what Gods plan is when something like this happens. Please bear with us while the whole family processes this horrible thing. We all arrived in Battlecreek last night to try our best to get thru this. Brooke and the girls along with brothers and sisters are all here."

"I've seen him race several times and the flame comes out of the stacks and it comes out of the three engines in the back and it's very dynamic, very exciting. You usually don't see that kind of extremes. He's over 300 miles per hour and flames coming out, roaring, the planes flying, so it's really quite a show," Traver added.

Traver says Chris and his dad have done the Battle Creek Field of Flight air show several times. He rode in SHOCKWAVE with Chris' dad not too long ago.

"They're all putting themselves in harm's way, but as entertainment, but there's definitely risks involved. And [Saturday], we saw the absolute worst and we never dreamed we would want to see it," Traver said.

Traver also told FOX 17 that Chris' family was there when the accident happened. Now, organizers are trying to figure out a way to honor him.

The rest of the Field of Flight Air Show in Battle Creek was canceled for the rest of the day Saturday; however, evening activities at the festival and Sunday and Monday's events still are scheduled to take place.

Field of Flight told FOX 17 Saturday night that they will not honor Saturday's wristbands for future air shows. They say they made an announcement over the loud speaker and on social media, after the accident, that people could exchange their wristbands for Sunday or Monday before leaving the grounds. However, those who left the grounds after 4:30 p.m. without exchanging their wristbands cannot get a refund.

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