The FAA and NTSB are currently investigating the September 16 crash of an airplane at the National Air Racing Championships in Reno, Nevada. The crash killed 10 spectators and the pilot of the World War II-era plane. Dozens of people were also injured in the crash.
The federal safety agencies are considering a number of possible factors in the crash. The pilot was 74-years-old, but had passed his most recent medical exam that was required of him to participate in the event. Investigators are examining video footage of the crash, some created by audience members.
Investigators believe that a piece of the airplane's tail broke off before the crash, which could have contributed to the crash or caused it. The piece could have caused the plane to shoot vertically, which could have subjected the pilot to high enough G-forces to cause him to pass out and crash. It is also thought that the pilot may have experienced extreme turbulence that caused him to lose control of the plane.
Planes flown during the event are altered and souped-up in order to create the best racing airplanes possible. This plane had its wings shortened and a stronger engine installed in order to make the plane go faster. For this reason, the plane may have been more difficult to control in the turbulence.
The federal safety agencies are likely going to decide during the course of the investigation whether these races are safe to have at all with a public audience in attendance. Twenty pilots have died in the history of the air races, but no spectators were killed before the recent tragedy.
Source: Los Angeles Times, "Figuring out how to avoid another Reno air crash," Ralph Vartabedian, Dan Weikel and Paul Pringle, Sept. 26, 2011