Two people were killed when the inside of a World War II-era tank was ripped apart by an explosion. The tank was being filmed at a public gun range in Oregon.
Described as a 1944 M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer, the vintage war machine exploded at the gun range run by the Central Oregon Sports Shooting Association close to Bend, Oregon.
When emergency services rushed to the scene after the blast, one man had died and the other was fatally wounded. Apparently, first responders were able to briefly talk to the wounded man before he slipped into unconsciousness and died.
One victim was Steven Preston, aged 51, and the other was Austin Lee, aged 22. The two men died in the tank. The cause of the explosion is still being determined.
Steven Preston was convention chairman and board director of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association. This national organization is dedicated to collecting and restoring historic army ground transport.
Preston leaves his wife Rachel, and their two young daughters behind.
Austin Lee, the younger of the two men, was a member of Able Company 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a contingent of World War II enactors. Its members “fight” four battles each year with historic vehicles and weapons, according to the regiment’s Facebook page.
Lee’s Facebook album is full of photographs of himself in a variety of military uniforms, including pilot and sailor outfits, taking part in battle reenactments with other young men.
A Sheriff’s Department official explained that it is not illegal in the state of Oregon to own or fire a tank, as long as the vehicle is registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Additionally, the person operating the tank should have the proper license.