Report: Wing parts fell before Reno Air Race crash

Officials comb the area where a plane crashed and the pilot died on the race course while attempting to qualify for the Reno National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev., Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. This is the same event where a wreck in 2011 killed a pilot and 10 spectators on the ground. (AP Photo/The Reno Gazette-Journal, Andy Barron)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A wing apparently malfunctioned before an experimental aircraft crash killed a retired Air Force pilot from California during qualification heats of the Reno National Championship Air Races in Nevada last week, according to a preliminary crash report.

Portions of the right wing separated from the Backovich GP-5 dubbed “Sweet Dreams” before the aircraft rolled to the right and crashed Sept. 8 in a more than half-mile-long debris path, according to a National Transportation Safety Board summary released Saturday.

The pilot, Lee Behel, 64, of San Jose, died in the crash. No one else was injured.

It could take a year or more for a final accident report in the Behel crash, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said Monday.

The crash occurred in a remote part of the Stead Airport race course north of Reno, far from grandstands where a racing plane that plunged into a spectator area in 2011 killed the pilot and 10 other people, and injured dozens more.

The Reno Air Racing Association is cooperating with the Behel investigation, and the preliminary report found no lapse or error on behalf of the organization, Race spokesman Mike Draper said.

Nearly 120 pilots flew in six aircraft classes during the 51st annual National Championship Air Races, which ended Sunday with Steven Hinton Jr. of Chino, California, piloting a P-51 Mustang to his sixth consecutive Breitling Unlimited Gold championship.

Hinton, 27, logged a top speed of more than 492 mph in the final race.

Draper wasn’t immediately able to identify a pilot who made an apparent emergency landing on a runway amid a cloud of smoke Sunday afternoon during a sport-class race. The pilot wasn’t injured, he said.

The races draw thousands of spectators to see high-performance and experimental planes fly wingtip-to-wingtip as low as 50 feet off the sagebrush desert on an oval path around pylons. Distances and speeds depend on the class of aircraft.

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