WWII plane crash: P-51 flight was anniversary gift

WWII plane crash: The pilot and a paying passenger died Wednesday when their plane, a vintage WWII P-51 Mustang crashed in Galveston Bay. The passenger, a British citizen, was celebrating his 41st wedding anniversary.

(AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman)
The "Galveston Gal", a TF-51 training varient of the P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft, (seen in this photo from September 2011) crashed today, Oct. 23, 2013 into the West Galveston bay, Texas killing the pilot and passenger.

Two men have died after a vintage fighter plane crashed in the water off the coast of Galveston.

The Texas Department of Public Safety says 51-year-old pilot Keith Hibbett of Denton and his 66-year-old passenger John Stephen Busby, who was visiting from the United Kingdom, were killed in the crash Wednesday.

The passenger, Busby, was visiting Texas with his wife to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary. He had paid almost $2,000 for a flight in the WWII P-51 Mustang.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Lehmann says the captain of a charter boat notified authorities after seeing the P-51 Mustang crash in an area between Chocolate Bay and Galveston Bay shortly before noon. He says the plane went down in water some 4 feet deep.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford says the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston operated the plane. He says the pilot was not in contact with air traffic controllers when the crash happened.

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

The P-51 Mustang was called "Galveston Gal" and was built in 1944 and painted to resemble a plane with the same name that flew missions to support bombers during World War II.

According to the Lone Star Flight Museum 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, the P-51 quickly made an impact over the skies of Germany by providing essential fighter escort to American bombers along their entire route. The LSFM P-51 Mustang is painted in the markings of Galveston Gal, an aircraft assigned to the 359th Fighter Group flown by Galveston native Ray Lancaster. This P-51 was converted to a two-seat, dual control TF-51 while serving in the El Salvadoran Air Force in the 1960s.

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

The cause of the crash is being investigated by the FAA.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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