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Pilot dies at Reno Air Races


A pilot has died after crashing his plane at the Reno National Championship Air Races at Reno-Stead Airport Monday afternoon. Reno Public Radio’s Michelle Bliss reports that the tragedy is a painful reminder of the event’s 2011 crash that killed 11 people, most of them spectators in the grandstand.

Lee Behel was a racing veteran from San Jose who flew planes in both the Air Force and the Nevada National Guard. He was also the father of two sons.

Unlike the incident in 2011, when Behel’s plane went down he was flying over a remote stretch of the race course, quite far from any spectators.

Air Races Spokesman Mike Draper says despite these two crashes, the event is as safe as it can possibly be.

“This is a part of any racing sport," he explains, "so be it car racing or boat racing, no matter how hard we work, we can’t take out the element of danger that comes with racing.”

Draper says event organizers will host a memorial ceremony later this week, but the races will go on as scheduled, officially kicking off Wednesday.

"Certainly, it's a bit somber out here, but there's also a lot of resolve with it," Draper says. "For a lot of our pilots, they look at it and say the best way to honor and remember some of their fellow race pilots is to continue racing and sharing in that passion."

The cause for the crash remains under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The Reno Air Races has drawn crowds of more than 200,000 people and event organizers say it has an annual economic impact of $80 million on the region.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.