Air race safety questioned after Reno crash

Late summer is a popular time for air shows and races, and many fans are drawn to the spectacle of high flight, breakneck speeds, and daredevil aerial acrobatics.

But two crashes over the weekend - one at an air race in Reno, Nev. and the other at an air show in West Virginia, left both pilots and nine spectators dead, and dozens of others injured.

They also left some people asking whether the air races have become too dangerous, reports CBS News correspondent Karen Brown.

"The objective, really, is to go as fast as possibly just as in any type of race," points out CBS News aviation safety expert Mark Rosenker, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "The problem is, when you begin to go as fast as possible, you really do reach the edge of the safety envelope."

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Twenty-five-year-old Noah Joraanstad barely survived the crash are the race in Reno, Nev., that killed nine people in all.

"When that thing started coming down, I couldn't believe it. I was like, 'I'm gonna die. I'm gonna start running.' And then, I reached around and touched my back, and that's when I realized I'd been cut open."

Shrapnel had torn into Joraanstad's back, narrowly missing his lung and kidneys. He was covered in aviation fuel, which burned his skin.

Joraanstad, a pilot himself, says the races may need to end, telling CBS News, "I love the flying. I'm going to hate for it to go away, but with this kind sort of casualties, it sorta has to, I think."

On "The Early Show" Monday, he told co-anchor Chris Wragge from his hospital bed, "This was a very, very freak accident., and I think that, particularly with Reno, it's going to be almost impossible for this to go on anymore. It is dangerous, and when that many people get their lives taken away, it is pretty hard to justify continuing an event like that."

At that Reno International Air Race, a World War II-era plane plunged to the ground in front of a crowd of spectators.

Now, the NTSB is looking into whether pilot error or faulty equipment could have played a role.

Veteran racer and Hollywood stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward had just rounded a turn at a speed of up to 500 mph Friday when disaster struck.

As NTSB investigators combed through the wreckage over the weekend, officials said they may be close to finding the cause.

"They have identified and recovered portions of the accident aircraft tail," the NTSB's Mark Rosekind told reporters.

The tail is key because photos show that, just seconds before the plane plummeted to the ground, a piece of the tail section was missing -- something that could have caused the pilot to lose control.

Memory cards from an onboard camera and data recorder were also recovered and sent to Washington, D.C. for analysis.

The vintage bomber that crashed bore little resemblance to its original self after being rebuilt to achieve the extreme levels of speed required in an air race. Investigators are also looking into whether or not these modifications could have played a role in Friday's accident.

The Friday crash was followed by another deadly accident at an air show in West Virginia, in which the pilot was the lone fatality.

  • Karen Brown

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