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Air Show Safety Under Scrutiny After Two Fatal Crashes

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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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MARTINSBURG, W. Va. (WJZ)—Two deadly crashes within a matter of hours are raising concerns about the safety of air shows. On Monday a 10th person died following an accident in Reno, Nev.,  where a racing plane crashed into a crowd on Friday. Right now federal investigators are analyzing memory cards and a camera that came from the plane.

The NTSB is also trying to find the cause of a crash at an air show in West Virginia.  A 54-year old pilot died when his plane plunged into a runway and exploded on Saturday.

Mike Hellgren has the latest on both investigations and safety concerns.

The son of the pilot who died in the West Virginia air crash on Saturday says his father always put safety first.  These air shows are coming under increased scrutiny.

The crash in West Virginia stunned thousands of fans, including many from Maryland–as they watched the pilot–who had decades of experience–die in a fireball.

“The split second before the explosion I thought ‘This guy’s not going to make it up because he was way too far down.’ There was no room for him to turn around,” said Albert McGilvrey, witness.

“It was a giant ball of orange flame which immediately turned black and that was it,” McGilvrey added.

The crash so close to home unfolded just hours after a plane slammed into a crowd during an air race in Reno, Nev.–killing the pilot and several spectators–and sending almost 70 people to hospitals.

“All I remember as I’m trying to run is I see stuff coming,” said Ed Larson, Reno crash survivor.

“I was like ‘I’m gonna die.’  I was gonna start running,” said Noah Joraanstad, Reno crash survivor.

Joe Gauvreau is an aerobatics instructor in Bowie.

“Anytime you fly close to the ground you’re pushing the envelope,” said Gauvreau, aerobatics instructor at Bowie’s Freeway Airport. “When you have someone flying in formation with you it’s even more difficult and you have to spend a lot of time practicing.”

Some describe air races like the one in Reno as NASCAR in the sky.  Federal regulations to protect spectators are different for them than those governing air shows–like the deadly one in West Virginia, where people watching are kept farther away.

“There had to be at least 10,000 people here, but it wasn’t a sound. It was utter, utter silence,” McGilvrey said.

The incredible pictures of the crashes and the aftermath are now part of the federal investigation.

It could take six- nine months for the NTSB to fully investigate the crash in West Virginia and the one in Nevada.

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