In what a Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics professor described as like NASCAR races in the sky, an air race left 10 people dead on Friday when a rebuilt World War II plane crashed into a spectator area at the National Championship Air Races in Nevada. Now the safety of the extreme sport has been called into question.
In addition to the 10 people, including the pilot, who were killed in the fatal accident, there are an additional 11 patients at a Reno hospital being treated, with three who are in critical condition. Although the sport is known to be dangerous, some are now saying that the Federal Aviation Administration does not keep close enough tabs on the races.
A leading investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board said that the vintage fighter plane crashed into the spectator area with such force that it will be hard to put the plane back together to determine exactly what went wrong. At this point, it appears that the plan lost a part, possibly a tail prior to crashing.
The NTSB said it will also investigate to make sure the FAA’s safety protocol was followed and whether or not it was effective. If the NTSB finds that the safety protocol implemented by the FAA was insufficient, it could recommend changes to improve safety within the sport.
“We will thoroughly examine FAA’s current (safety) procedures, what comprehensive plan was in place for this particular race and whether it was followed or not,” a board member said.
The sport typically involves extremely modified planes that race side-by-side sometimes only 100 feet off the ground around a marked course. Air races are considered far more dangerous than air shows and are regulated by a different set of rules, but both often feature stunt pilots and military jets.
However, air shows can also be dangerous. The NTSB is also currently investigating a fatal accident at an air show in West Virginia on Saturday that took the life of a pilot.
Source: USA TODAY, “10th person dies from Reno air race crash,” Thomas Frank, Sept. 19, 2011.