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Two dead in aircraft crash in Galveston West Bay

Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Two dead in aircraft crash in Galveston West Bay Plane in deadly crash was to perform this weekend Plane crash in Galveston Bay

Two people were killed Wednesday when their World War II-era plane went down in shallow water near Galveston.

THe vintage P-51 Mustang crashed shortly before noon. It wasa a plane operated by the Lone Star Flight Museum. The museum was closed Wednesday, presumably a result of what authorities are calling a horrific accident.

The Coast Guard tells us a captain of a charter boat notified authorities after seeing the P-51 crash in that area between Chocolate and Galveston Bay. He said the plane went down about 11:40am in shallow water, estimated at about 4 feet deep.

Why it crashed is still unknown. Emergency crews recovered the bodies hours after the crash. The pilot has been identified as 51-year-old Keith Hibbet, and the passenger has been identified as 66-year-old John Stephen, a United Kingdom native who was visiting Texas with his wife to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary.

Investigators say Hibbert was not in contact with air traffic control at the time of the crash.

The tail number on the plane matches that on the museum's plane known as the 'Galveston Gal.'

The plane had just returned last weekend from an air show and it was going to appear next weekend at Wings Over Houston. It's the latest tragedy to hit the museum, which was ravaged during Hurricane Ike.

"I used to say that the worst thing to happen around here was Hurricane Ike, and I would judge things by it -- it's not 8 feet of water so it's not that bad. This is by far one of the most difficult things I've gone through. Our pilot was like a brother to me. He's taught me a lot about flying and everything else. It's just devastating," said Larry Gregory with the Lone Star Flight Museum.

According to the Lone Star Flight Museum's website, the P-51 is regarded by many as the most effective fighter aircraft produced during World War II. Known for its maneuverability, speed and range, it played a major role in escorting American bombers over Germany.

The P-51 that crashed was painted like the P-51 that Galveston native Ray Lancaster flew for the 359th fighter group in World War II. It was converted to a two-seater while serving in the El Salvadoran Air Force in the 1960s.

FAA investigators are on scene. The NTSB has been notified and will ultimately take over this investigation.

Wednesday afternoon, we received a statement from Bill Roach, Director, Wings Over Houston Airshow:

    "We received notice today from the U.S. Coast Guard that a P-51 was involved in an accident that occurred in Chocolate Bayou in Brazoria County, Texas. We were told the pilot and a passenger did not survive. We also learned the plane, known as "Galveston Gal," is from the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas.

    This plane was one of more than 80 vintage aircraft and one of several P-51s scheduled to appear in the Wings Over Houston Airshow. This accident was not related to the Wings over Houston air show. The show, as well as plane rides purchased by our patrons, will go on as scheduled.

    My heart and the hearts of the Commemorative Air Force, our airshow staff, and many others are heavy. We are a brotherhood and sisterhood of people who are passionate about preserving aviation history and honoring our veterans who served our country. And we are united in our desire to share this passion with our others through museums, airshows and other events throughout the United States.

    So while our hearts ache and we grieve, we will continue to share our love of aviation with our fans and move forward with our show. And we will remember these two people, their families, and their friends in our thoughts and prayers now, during our show and in the difficult days ahead."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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