Last weekend, driver Chris Darnell was tragically killed when his jet-powered semi truck rolled over at a Michigan air show. At the time, the crash was simply blamed on an unspecified “mechanical failure,” but new information has come to light that explains exactly what went wrong: The 300 MPH, triple-jet-engine truck was laid low by a single, simple tire failure.
According to Neal Darnell, father of Chris, a tire ruptured on the left side of the truck as it blasted down the Battle Creek runway. Speaking with the Associated Press, Darnell said, “As the tire came apart it ruptured the fuel tank on the left side of the car and that, of course, initiated the fire. It happened so quickly that Chris didn’t even have time to react.”
No matter how built-up a vehicle is, simple wear items like brakes and tires can still be a weak link. At speeds like those, particularly in a vehicle with the weight of a jet-powered semi, that rubber will be subject to incredible strain as it tries to maintain contact with the road. No matter how understandable the failure is from a physics standpoint, however, it’s no less tragic that it cost the life of the truck’s driver.
Neal Darnell says he narrowed down the cause of the crash by reviewing audience footage, as well as inspecting the remnants of the truck after the fire was extinguished. He also had words for the Associated Press regarding his son’s approach to driving Shockwave, saying “Most people don’t like their jobs. Chris loved his job. He would say on a fairly regular basis that he was living the dream and I loved that for him.”
Ideally, other jet trucks will take heed of Darnell’s crash, and ensure that similar failures won’t have such tragic effects in the future. Still, no matter what safety improvements come from this wreck, it’s a shame that it cost the life of the man behind the wheel.