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Memorial to honor 2011 Reno air race crash victims

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POSTED June 25, 2012 1:38 a.m.

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Organizers of the Reno National Championship Air Races are pursuing plans to build a permanent memorial for victims of last year’s mass-casualty crash in Nevada.

Reno Air Racing Association officials are hoping the memorial can be installed at the crash site at Reno Stead Airport by the start of the Sept. 12-16 event.

They’re talking to victims’ families to determine what they would prefer, but have not yet come up with a specific design for the monument, association spokesman Mike Draper said.

A modified World War II P-51 Mustang crashed in front of VIP boxes last September at the air races, killing 11 people and injuring about 70 others.

“Last year was a very difficult year for our family (of spectators) and the air race family in general, Draper told The Associated Press. “We want to appropriately remember all the folks who were so deeply affected by last year’s event.”

But organizers realize they may not be able to decide on a design and install the memorial before this year’s air races, he said.

“Realistically, we probably won’t have a permanent marker up until next year,” Draper said.

The air racing association also is hoping the crater created by the crash can be gone by the start of the September races, he said.

Pilot Jimmy Leeward, 74, of Ocala, Fla., was traveling at 530 mph when his plane took an oddly upward pitch, then nose-dived into the ground, blasting out a 3-foot-deep, 8-foot-wide crater in a hail of debris. The crash killed him and 10 spectators.

Enclosed by a fence and covered with a steel plate, the crater remains because of lawsuits filed on behalf of victims’ families, organizers said.

“Our hope and intention is that it’s not there. We’ve heard from people that it be removed and filled in,” Draper said.

The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority’s board of trustees has the final say on the crater’s removal and the memorial because it oversees the airport property.

Airport authority spokesman Brian Kulpin said his agency is waiting to hear from air racing association attorneys that they would like the crash site repaired.

“As soon as we have a request we can run it through our attorneys for consideration,” he said.

The airport authority also would be happy to discuss with the air racing association its plans for the memorial, Kulpin added.

“We fully understand and appreciate the desire to have some sort of memorial,” he said.

Organizers also plan to pay tribute to victims at ceremonies on the first and final days of finals competition at the air races. The final day, Sept. 16, will mark the anniversary of the crash.

The cause of the 2011 crash is still under investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to release a final report later this year.

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