By Courtney Sherwood
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Two men killed by an explosion inside a tank-like armored fighting vehicle from World War Two were filming video of the weapon in action for a non-profit military preservation exhibit, authorities in Oregon said on Wednesday.
A film crew was capturing footage of the 1944-vintage M18 Hellcat tank destroyer as it was firing artillery rounds on a target range in central Oregon when Monday's blast occurred, Deschutes County Sheriff L. Shane Nelson said in a statement.
The cause of the explosion remained unexplained. "This is a tragic day. Two families lost loved ones, and our hearts and prayers go out to them," he said. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was assisting local law enforcement in its investigation of the blast, which killed Steven Todd Preston, 51, and Austin Tyler Lee, 22, according to Nelson.
Preston, who ran a towing company, owned the tank destroyer and had filmed it firing rounds numerous times over the years, according to the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, where he served on the board.
He owned about a dozen military vehicles, according to a Wall Street Journal profile published in September.
The M18 Hellcat and other tank destroyers, or tank hunters, are armored self-propelled artillery pieces - some tracked, some wheeled - that closely resemble tanks but are designed specifically to engage and knock out enemy tanks. Actual battle tanks are more versatile front-line armored vehicles designed for wider combat capabilities.
(Editing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Sandra Maler)