Waco pilot witnessed warplanes crash at Dallas airshow

“It was magical...up until the fateful moment,” said David G. Henry.
Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 12:21 AM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The aviation community remains in shock over Saturday’s tragic airshow crash in Dallas.

A Waco-based pilot who was at the show with his family when the warplanes collided says it was surreal.

“You honestly don’t fully comprehend that this is real, this is so incomprehensible,” said David G. Henry. “From the aviation standpoint, knowing all the planning and choreography and all that’s involved...it didn’t feel real for a few seconds, but then it soaked in what you had just seen.”

Henry and his family were among the thousands of spectators who saw a Bell P-63 Kingcobra hit a B-17 Flying Fortress Saturday afternoon during the Wings Over Dallas airshow, Texas’ largest WWII airshow, at Dallas Executive Airport.

Six people were killed.

“It was magical...up until the fateful moment,” said Henry.

Henry got his pilot’s license almost 30 years ago so he could travel to teach patent law at Baylor University while still living in San Antonio.

“I finally had an excuse to take-on aviation, which is something I’d loved, literally, since I was a child,” said Henry.

The family later moved to Waco.

Now Henry, who besides being a professor of patent and trademark law and litigation at Baylor also has a law firm in Dallas, flies out of Waco in one of his two planes about twice a week for business.

As a result of decades of trips around the country, Henry says flying has become embedded in his family.

“In our family, we are so steeped in aviation, everyone’s first flight is a big deal, the first air show is a big deal,” said Henry.

Saturday was the first airshow for his two-year-old grandson.

“We flew up and, sure enough, he was mesmerized by everything,” said Henry.

Luckily, Henry says, his grandson wasn’t old enough to comprehend what happened next.

“There was no question in my mind: we just saw multiple people perish instantaneously,” said Henry. “There was a sudden just hush over the crowd, it was pretty clear to all involved what had happened at that point, people with children turned them the other way, I think everybody in the field knew that this was almost certainly unsurvivable.”

Being a pilot, the situation hit close to home for Henry.

“I think anyone seeing that would be shocked to their core, as I certainly was, but I think there’s an extra level having spent almost 30 years in the cockpit,” said Henry. “I can at least imagine what it must be like to be in that position, to clearly be fatally injured aircraft-wise...you are not going to survive this, no question.”

Making it even more emotional for Henry: flying that particular B-17 was on his bucket list, and minutes before the crash he’d chatted with the pilot about potentially taking over the duty someday.

“I actually visited with the pilot about that, and we talked about what I would need to do and some of the steps--I have his card in my pocket that he gave me moments before they took off, and I guess in a way, that made it even more personal,” said Henry. “I had just spoken to him, I’d seen the crew with the perspective of ‘I might ultimately fly that aircraft’ and hope to contribute the way that they did, keep our history alive, entertain, maybe inspire the next generation on aviation, which is important.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

“My understanding, is they (the B-17 and P-63) were supposed to be in the air at the same time, certainly not to be in those two places at the same time, clearly, but there were multiple aircraft ‘parading around,’ as it were,” said Henry.

Officials say it could take years before the investigation is complete and a report is released.

Henry cautions: we may never understand why it happened.

“What we really don’t know: it could have been a medical issue, it could have been an uncontrollable mechanical issue,” said Henry. “They will analyze everything from pilot records, to aircraft itself records, maintenance, training, it will be a thorough, forensic analysis to see if there’s anything other than the fighter pilot, the P-63 pilot, ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Henry, who is also a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol, says his greatest fear now is having historic airshows grounded.

“We have a pilot shortage now, amongst other things, and I think these air shows, in a way, plant the seed in the next generation,” said Henry. “My concern, is somehow there’s going to be a movement to ‘oh, we must ground all older aircraft, we cannot have air shows, we cannot fly this older aircraft’...that’s just a false assumption, in my very strong opinion.”

In response to articles he’s read and media reports, Henry wants to quell fears over aging military aircraft used in airshows.

“Older aircraft used in this way are meticulously maintained, and the parts that matter are new,” said Henry. “While every so often you might have an accident where perhaps age is a factor, condition is a factor, I would be astounded if that had anything to do with the accident.”

It’s an accident Henry says he can’t stop thinking about that’s impacted aviators, like him, across the globe.

“I just can’t get it out of my mind, honestly,” said Henry. “It’s a community where a loss of one is felt by all.”

Sources say that B-17 was one of only five still flying in the world.

It performed in Waco during the 2015 Heart of Texas Airshow at TSTC Airport.