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Father says son killed in fiery air show accident was ‘living the dream’

Chris Darnell, 40, died when his jet-powered semi-truck burst into flames at a festival.

A 40-year-old driver is dead following an accident at the Field of Flight Air Show & Balloon Festival in Battle Creek, Michigan Saturday afternoon.

Chris Darnell, an experienced racer and jet truck driver, was performing in the show, held at the Battle Creek Executive Airport, as part of the SHOCKWAVE Jet Truck pyrotechnic portion of the festival. Other events scheduled for the days-long event include a "Wall of Fire" and a pyrotechnic nighttime air show.

According to a statement from the Battle Creek police department, the accident occurred around 1:10 p.m., when drivers and pilots were performing in the air and on the ground. As part of the show, Darnell's jet truck was meant to race down the runway at over 300 miles per hour.

Tom Campbell, an attendee at the show, captured the fiery explosion on camera.
Tom Campbell, an attendee at the show, captured the fiery explosion on camera.Tom Campbell / Facebook

Instead, the truck reportedly flipped off the runway and burst into flames.

In a Facebook post, Darnell's father confirmed his son's passing.

“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,” Neal Darnell wrote. “Regretfully Chris Darnell the driver and my youngest son passed away from his injuries at approximately 1:01 pm.”

Airplanes continue over the explosion of Chris Darnell's truck.
Airplanes continue over the explosion of Chris Darnell's truck.Tom Campbell / Facebook

The elder Darnell said that no one else was involved in the accident, and that funeral arrangements would be announced later this week.

“We are so sad,” he wrote. “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 Darnell.
Chris Darnell.Shockwave Jet Truck

According to his SHOCKWAVE bio, Chris Darnell had been involved in motorsports his entire life, competing in many different types of racing. He was also the owner of a truck accessory company, 4 Wheel Customs, and shared driving duties with his father, Neal Darnell, in both the Flash Fire and SHOCKWAVE Jet Trucks.

According to police, the accident remains under investigation. Remaining events on Saturday were cancelled, but the festival resumed as scheduled Sunday.

Field of Flight said in a Facebook post Sunday morning that more than $2,000 had been raised for the Darnell family, and upcoming events will be held "in the memory of Chris Darnell."