Southern California pilot among 2 dead after vintage planes collide at Reno air race

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A pilot based at Van Nuys Airport and another pilot from Northern California died Sunday after their planes collided in midair during the final day of the National Championship Air Races in Reno.

Chris Rushing of Thousand Oaks and Nick Macy of Tulelake, in Siskiyou County, had completed their race and were landing their planes around 2:15 p.m. when the crash occurred, according to the Reno Air Racing Assn.

“I am completely devastated and heartbroken today,” said Fred Telling, chairman of the association and president of the T-6 Class. “These two pilots weren’t just an integral part of the National Championship Air Race family; they were a part of my family.”

Both pilots were considered experts and had won gold in the T-6 class, according to race organizers. The T-6 was a type of single-engine plane used to train thousands of pilots during World War II and afterward. Rushing was flying Baron’s Revenge, a North American Aviation AT-6B based in Van Nuys. Macy was flying Six Cat, a North American Aviation T-6 Texan.

Rushing, 65, was president of the Van Nuys-based Condor Squadron Officers’ and Airmen’s Assn., a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring U.S. veterans and the public display of the North American AT-6/SNJ Texan, the two-seater used to train thousands of pilots in World War II and the Korean War.

The National Championship Air Races have been held annually in Reno for more than half a century, drawing pilots, aviation enthusiasts and spectators from around the world for several days of aircraft races.

The spectacle is akin to a NASCAR race in the sky.

More than 21 pilots have died at the event since it began in 1964. No crash has been as catastrophic as the one in 2011, when a pilot and 10 people on the ground were killed and an additional 70 were injured by a World War II fighter that flew out of control and smashed into box seats near a grandstand. The deadly crash sparked civil lawsuits, investigations by federal aviation officials and safety enhancements at the air races, such as moving racing pylons 150 feet farther from grandstands and installing concrete barriers.

The 2023 show was to be the final one at Reno-Stead Airport on account of rising insurance costs, among other factors.

No civilians were injured in Sunday’s crash, and the pilots were the sole occupants of their respective planes. The remainder of the Air Races was canceled Sunday, organizers said.

The collision is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, organizers said.

“My heart goes out to their own families and to all of the spectators and fans who have so enthusiastically supported us this week,” said Telling, the Reno Air Racing Assn. chairman.

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