Denton pilot killed in crash of vintage WWII warplane near Galveston

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by MICHELLE HOMER and REKHA MUDDARAJ

KHOU

Posted on October 23, 2013 at 7:36 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 23 at 11:00 PM

P-51 crash

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HOUSTON — Coast Guard crews have recovered two bodies and what's left of a historic plane that crashed into Halls Lake near Chocolate Bay Wednesday.

The P-51 Mustang, a World War II-era fighter, was based at Galveston's Lone Star Flight Museum, and had appeared just last weekend at the Fort Worth Alliance Air Show.

It took off from Scholes International Airport shortly before crashing with 51-year-old Keith Hibbett of Denton at the controls. Hibbett was a U.S. Navy pilot and flight instructor who served from 1984 to 1994.

A friend told News 8 that Hibbett was a pilot for FedEx, and that he had a lot of experience in the skies.

"It's a tragic loss to our community," said J.R. Mosier of Hidden Valley Airpark near Denton. "Keith was a good neighbor and a good pilot."

Hibbett's passenger was identified as 66-year-old John Stephen Busby, a United Kingdom resident who was visiting Texas with his wife to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary.

"This is by far one of the most difficult things I’ve ever gone through," said Larry Gregory with the Lone Star Flight Museum, which owned the plane. "Our pilot was like a brother to me. He’s taught me a lot about flying and everything else. And it’s just devastating."

Coast Guard crews recovered the victims' bodies from Halls Lake near Chocolate Bay on Wednesday afternoon.

The P-51 Mustang, a World War II-era fighter, took off from Scholes International Airport shortly before crashing.

Witnesses on a charter boat reported seeing the plane go down around 11:40 a.m. near Galveston's West End in Brazoria County.

Jennifer Spaulding was on another boat and she heard the impact.

"We saw the water spraying up in the air, but we never saw what it was," she said. "We never saw a plane go down or anything, so we didn’t think anything like a plane. We just figured it was a boat."

The pilot was not in contact with the island’s air traffic control tower at the time of the crash, FAA spokesperson Lynn Lunsford told the Galveston County Daily News.

Coast Guard helicopters and boats searched Chocolate Bay for more than an hour before locating the debris and victims.

The FAA will investigate the cause of the crash.

The plane was called "Galveston Gal" and was painted to resemble a plane with the same name that flew missions to support bombers during World War II. A seat was added so that pilots could carry tourists on flights over the bay.

The Galveston Gal was one of dozens of vintage planes that entertained crowds at the annual Wings Over Houston Air Show.

"My heart and the hearts of the Commemorative Air Force, our air show staff, and many others are heavy," said Wings Over Houston Director Bill Roach. "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, air shows, and other events throughout the United States."

WFAA reporter Jobin Panicker in Denton County contributed to this report.

 

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