|RENO AIR RACES. A P-51 Mustang accident at the 2011 races in September killed spectators and left the future of the event in question.|
After a highly modified World War II P-51 Mustang crashed into spectators at the National Championship Air Races at Reno-Stead Airport, Reno, Nev., this past September, there was the predictable criticism of air races being an excessively dangerous sport for participants and spectators alike. The death toll quickly rose to 11, including the pilot with about 70 injured. Enthusiasts and air race organizers defended the activity, noting that only the best-qualified pilots are allowed to participate, and safety is emphasized in everything. The FAA is active in providing oversight and promoting safety for racing events, ranging from prescribing minimum distances between the crowds and aerial activity, to certifying racing check pilots. A records search shows that the NTSB investigated three fatal air racing accidents in the 10 years before the September accident, with about a dozen more if you go back into the ’60s. Generally, these previous accidents had in common that the pilots were the fatalities. In the context of extreme speeds and maneuvers, and the informed assumption of risk by the participants, three or four fatal racing accidents in 10 years doesn’t seem as grim as a decade’s worth of fatal highway accidents, or 10 years’ worth of GA fatal accidents involving weather and fuel mismanagement.
On September 13, 2002, an amateur-built Venture M20 airplane crashed after failure of the left and right horizontal stabilizers and elevators. The accident was at the Reno-Stead Airport, during the sport-class race as part of the annual Reno Air Races. The airplane dove into the ground and was destroyed. The pilot was killed.