Investigators in Texas survey damage from Saturday's mid-air collision during...

Investigators in Texas survey damage from Saturday's mid-air collision during an air show of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and a Bell P-63 Kingcobra. Credit: AP/Liesbeth Powers

As investigators searched for clues in Saturday's fatal midair collision of two vintage warbirds at a Texas air show, officials involved with the Bethpage Air Show said safety of spectators and performers is "the number one priority."

Protocols for having a safe air show at Jones Beach are coordinated between more than 50 federal, state and local agencies, and, of course, air show performers, said George Gorman, spokesman for New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. And a so-called "air boss," responsible for air show airspace, oversees the entire operation — from practice sessions to daily safety briefings, Gorman said.

"Safety is obviously the Number One priority of the airshow and we take that to heart," Gorman said of the aviation event, which began in 2004. The air boss "is in charge of everything in the air box, which is where the performers actually perform," Gorman said. "Our air boss has been with us since inception — and he's one of the best, if not the best, in the business."

The list of agencies involved in coordinating safety protocols at the Bethage Air Show, he said, include the Federal Aviation Administration, air traffic controllers at the New York TRACON Center, the U.S. Coast Guard, State Police, State Parks Police and state and county Office of Emergency Management officials.

What to know

  • Six died in the mid-air collision Saturday of two World War II-era planes during a Texas air show.
  • Officials with the Bethpage Air Show reiterated Monday the importance of safety for spectators and performers at the annual Jones Beach event.
  • The American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale operates vintage aircraft and in some cases, books short flights aboard the planes.

In Texas on Monday, NTSB investigators continued piecing together the exact sequence of events that led a single-engine Bell P-63 Kingcobra and a larger four-engine Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, to collide in midair at the "Wings Over Dallas" air show.

Six crew members with the Commemorative Air Force, a vintage plane preservation and flying organization that put on the show at the Dallas Executive Airpiort, died in the crash. There were no survivors, authorities said.

Among the unanswered questions: Why were both aircraft flying at the same altitude and in the same airspace? In several videos that captured the collision, aircraft in the show pass by the bulky B-17 before the P-63 quickly comes into view and hits the bomber. Both planes fall to the ground in a ball of flames and thick black smoke. Investigators are analyzing radar and video footage to pinpoint the exact location of collision, according to NTSB officials.

Neither aircraft was equipped with a flight-data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder, separate devices referred to collectively as the black boxes, and neither were required to have those devices, said NTSB member Michael Graham.

Details about the specific performance formation at the time of the collision had not been released as of Monday

Veteran airshow performer David Windmiller, 58, of Melville, who flies aerobatics at Bethpage and several other air shows throughout the U.S. each year, said Monday that performers sticking to agreed-upon choreography and adhering to all pre-agreed-upon safety procedures should a performer lose sight — or situational awareness — in the airspace is paramount to safety.

"It's see and avoid," Windmiller said, "and that's the problem here."

In recent years, Long Island and New York City have been home to deadly crashes involving vintage planes or aerobatic teams. On May 28, 2016, the Farmingdale-based American Airpower Museum's World War II-era Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, nicknamed Jacky's Revenge, crashed into the Hudson River on a non-show flight, killing pilot Bill Gordon. In May 2017, a parachutist with the U.S. Navy "Leap Frogs" team died when his chute malfunctioned during a New York City Fleet Week performance. And in 2018, a pilot with the Republic Airport-based GEICO Skytypers team was killed when his North American SNJ-2 Texan crashed in Melville.

The American Airpower Museum which operates World War II-era warbirds at Republic Airport, including a B-25 bomber and several fighter planes and, in some cases, books short flights on the vintage aircraft, has long stressed the importance of safety, officials said.

Veteran publicist Gary Lewi, who once coordinated historic events at the Airpower Museum and now does the same work for historic re-enactments at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage, said at the Airpower Museum, "safety consistently trumped every operational consideration … that cornerstone of safety is equally true" at the Armor Museum. Bottom line, he said, is: "Safety is paramount."

With AP

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