Galveston Gal crashes in West Bay

JENNIFER REYNOLDS/The Daily News The Lone Star Flight Museum's a two-seat, dual- control TF-51 Mustang crashed Wednesday in West Bay killing 2, officials said. The Mustang was painted in the colors of the 359th Fighter Group, 370th Fighter Squadron, Code CS-F and is named "Galveston Gal". 

File photo/The Daily News

GALVESTON — A pilot from Denton and passenger from the United Kingdom died Wednesday morning when a World War II-era airplane based at the Lone Start Flight Museum crashed in West Galveston Bay, officials said.

Pilot Keith Hibbett, 51, and John Stephen Busby, 66, died in the 11:35 a.m. crash near the middle of the bay just at the Galveston and Brazoria county line, Sgt. John Sampa, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said.

Busby traveled to Galveston with his wife to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary, Sampa said. The men were aboard a TF-51, a two-seat version of the P-51 Mustang. The plane, called the Galveston Gal, was registered to the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame at the flight museum, Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said.

The aircraft took off from Scholes International Airport. Authorities recovered the bodies from the crash scene near Chocolate Bay in about 8 feet of water, Sampa said. The remote area is north of the West End of Galveston Island and only accessible by boat. The plane wasn’t visible during high tide, Sampa said.

Experienced pilot

Larry Gregory, the museum’s president, said the pilot was like a brother to him. The passenger paid for a flight in the vintage aircraft, Gregory said.

“He’s been one of our senior pilots for over a decade,” Gregory said. “He flies everything we have, so he’s a very experienced, former military aviator.”

The pilot was not in contact with the island’s air traffic control tower at the time of the crash, Lunsford said.

Fishermen reported seeing the end of the crash, Sampa said. The FAA notified the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the cause of the crash, Lunsford said. The FAA marked the scene and left Wednesday afternoon. The investigation was expected to resume Thursday, Sampa said.

Equipment failure?

“We’re just assuming something equipment-wise happened to the plane that caused them to go down,” Sampa said.

The Coast Guard launched a search and rescue helicopter and a small boat from its Freeport headquarters, Petty Officer Steven Lehmann said.

Members of the Galveston Marine Response Unit launched search and rescue boats from Galveston’s West End.

The plane was manufactured in 1944, according to the FAA. The flight museum added the TF-51 to its collection in March of 2010, and allowed people to ride in it for a fee. The TF-51 adorns a billboard along the southbound lanes of Interstate 45 advertising the “Warbird” rides.

Plane ‘meticulously maintained’

The plane flew to an airshow in Fort Worth last weekend with no issues, and it was scheduled to participate in the Wings over Houston Airshow this weekend, Gregory said.

“The airplane was meticulously maintained,” Gregory said.

The museum on its website advertises trainer flight experiences to the general public, including on the P-51 Mustang, which flew 60 missions during World War II.

Gregory said he was saddened by the loss of two great people, and called the crash the worst event since Hurricane Ike flooded the museum with 8 feet of water in September 2008.

“I used to say the worst thing that happened around here was Hurricane Ike,” Gregory said. “This is by far one of the most difficult things I’ve ever 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.”

(10) comments

Robert Buckner

Is that from the Lone Star Museum at Scholes TJ?

TJ Aulds Staff
TJ Aulds

yes

Don Ciaccio

I for one can't wait Til those planes are gone from Galveston

Brian Cann

You need to get a grip! 2 people are dead, their families are heart broken; but all you care about is getting rid some planes??!!! Go pound sand you nincompoop!

Jay Allen

Don233, you are no dought one cold dude man. I cant wait till all you non aviators move away from the AIRPORTS!!! After all, the airports were there first then you decided to move in... Nevermind, you couldn't understand. Might need more edjumacation... LOL
PS: God rest their Souls and pray for their families.[wink]

Jngavin

Prayers for the families

Carlos Ponce

My prayers go out to the friends and families of those who lost their lives. My dad served aboard an aircraft carrier USS Shipley Bay CVE-85 in World War II and loved seeing those old war birds in the air above Galveston. I hope this does not the deter those who preserve the history of these fine aircraft at the Museum. Keep them flying!

Susan Holliman

Prayers to all involved. It is such a shame about the plane, but a true tragedy about the plane.

Jngavin

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.

Steve Fouga

Can't agree with Don223 on this one. It's a privilege to see the warbirds in the air over Galveston. My dad was in B-17s during WW II, and I spent 36 years in the aircraft business before retiring. To me the airplanes are even better than the seagulls and pelicans. Makes me feel at home.

RIP, and Keep 'em Flying!

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