By SCOTT SONNER
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Two veteran California pilots were killed over the weekend when their World War II-era planes collided in midair while preparing to land just after finishing first and second in a title race at the National Championship Air Races north of Reno.
Officials identified the victims of Sunday’s crash as Chris Rushing of Thousand Oaks and Nick Macy, 67, of Tulelake.
Race officials said they were cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and local authorities to determine the cause of the crash.
The crash marred the 59th and final year of the National Championship Air Races at the Reno-Stead Airport. The deaths brought the number of pilots or performers who have died at the Reno races to 24 since the event began in 1964, along with 10 spectators who died during a crash on the edge of the grandstand in 2011.
“It’s a particularly poignant end to our final flag in Reno,” Reno Air Racing Association CEO Fred Telling told the Reno Gazette-Journal Sunday night. “But the racing family will stay together and race again somewhere.”
Organizers announced last year that the event has to find a new location because of increased development around the airport and other concerns.
Those concerns included rising insurance costs since 2011, when a highly modified North American P-51D Mustang racing aircraft crashed into spectators while competing at the Reno Air Races that September, killing former Hollywood stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward and 10 people on the ground.
It was one of the deadliest air show disasters in U.S. history. Another 70 people were seriously injured.
Last year, pilot Aaron Hogue, 61, of Henderson, Nevada, died in a crash during the September competition just north of Reno. Two months later at a Dallas air show, all six people aboard two vintage aircraft were killed when a P-63 Kingcobra fighter plane collided with a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.
On Sunday, Rushing had just won the T-6 Gold race at an average speed of 234 mph (376 kph) in his plane named Baron’s Revenge and Macy had finished second about 15 seconds behind him in his Six-Cat. Both were preparing to land when the two single-engine planes “collided in midair,” the FAA said.
Telling told the Reno newspaper, “It wasn’t a racing accident.”
“It was indeed a post-race landing accident,” he said. “We all are curious of how this came to pass.”
The FAA said the NTSB would take the lead in the investigation. The NTSB didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Telling described Rushing and Macy as skilled, expert pilots. Rushing was the defending champion in the race. Macy had won it six times over the years. Both their planes, which had been used to train pilots in World War II, were destroyed when they crashed in the high desert outside the race course about 5 miles (8 kilometers) east of the California line.
Rushing was dedicated to promoting the history of the World War II-era AT-6 Texan trainer plane as head of a nonprofit organization in Van Nuys, California, The Orange County Register reported.
Telling said at least six communities have filed to host the 2025 national championship. He did not disclose the locations. The racing association hopes to announce a new location in early 2024, it said in a Facebook post Monday afternoon.
“While there are inherent risks with any motorsport, we work diligently year around to mitigate these risks and safety is our foremost priority,” the association said. “Despite the sad way we have ended our storied tenure in northern Nevada, we want to express our appreciation to the countless fans and volunteers who have supported the event over the years … through both the good and troubling times.”
Associated Press journalists Walter Berry in Phoenix and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.