Bluebonnet Belle crashes; all 14 aboard survive

Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze on the Bluebonnet Belle after the historic aircraft crashed at Kate Craddock Field in Burnet on Saturday, July 21.

 

 

 

 

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

The Highlander

The famed Bluebonnet Belle C47 Skytrain, which assisted in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and was an integral part of the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, crashed Saturday morning at Burnet Municipal Airport's Kate Craddock Field in Burnet while attempting to take off for an air show in Wisconsin.

Fourteen people were aboard the Belle, headed for the annual Oshkosh Air Show when the plane left the runway shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday and crashed before catching fire and eventually exploding. Miraculously, all 14 people aboard the craft survived the crash and made it out of the plane before the explosion.

Video footage of the Belle's takeoff taken and uploaded to Facebook by Matt Gallagher, an Austin-based pilot who was scheduled to take off after the Belle, shows the historic 1944 transport aircraft appear to struggle to get airborne, tilt right and then veer left before digging its left wing into the ground and collapsing upon its landing gear. A second video shows the Belle burning as emergency vehicles respond.

One individual was airlifted to San Antonio Military Medical Center with significant burn injuries, though witnesses at the scene reported he was able to walk out of the crash site. Seven other individuals were transported to Seton Highland Lakes Hospital in Burnet with minor injuries.

The fire spread as well to grass along the runway. Area fire departments, especially the Burnet Fire Department, which is located next door to the airport, and the Burnet Volunteer Fire Department, responded quickly and were able to extinguish the grass fire after keeping it contained.

The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, which had agents on the ground interviewing passengers Saturday morning. T

Dave Hargett, a member of the Highland Lakes Squadron, said the Belle was on its way back to 2018 EEA AirVenture Oshkosh air show, the same show where the Belle had engine trouble in 2015.

Three years ago, the Belle had performed several air jumps in Wisconsin and was going to make a low pass over the airfield when a noise coming from the right engine forced the pilot to land the plane at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh.

The plane had a crack on the exhaust side of an engine cylinder as well as burn marks and a hole in the baffle and metal particles in the oil, which grounded the Belle in Wisconsin until a new engine could be installed and the plane was returned to Burnet in May 2016.

This is the third aircraft the Highland Lakes Squadron has lost or had grounded due to engine trouble in the past year. A T-6 SNJ Texan advanced trainer is currently grounded after losing an engine during a trip to a Mississippi air show, while the squadron's L-17 Navion reconnaissance airplane is also grounded due to engine trouble, leaving the PT-19 Cornell as the squadron's only operable plane at this time.

The Bluebonnet Belle has long been the featured aircraft at the annual Airsho, held the second weekend of September at the Burnet Municipal Airport by the Highland Lakes Squadron. Officials said the show is expected to continue without the famed aircraft.

“It's a huge loss for the city and for the Commemorative Air Force,” Burnet Mayor Christa Bromley said Saturday. “It was the star attraction for our local airport. We have the SNJ as well, but the Belle was a tremendous asset for the CAF.”

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