Pre-Reno Air Race Fatality

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Commercial pilot Erica Simpson, 32, was flying a Cassutt IIIM "Little Lynn" Saturday in preparation for the weeklong event that begins today (Monday), when the wings apparently failed, the aircraft crashed and Simpson was killed. Reno's Air Races run this year from Sept. 10 through 14 with about 150 pilots competing for $1 million in prize money. Qualifying begins Monday. Simpson competed in the Race's Biplane Class in 2006, missed last year's races when three pilots were killed, and this year intended to fly in the Formula One Class. The near-term misfortunes at Reno now account for four of the 19 fatalities attributed to the event in the last 45 years. Critics say that fatalities threaten the future of the sport making it far less appealing as a destination for local field trips and spectators who prefer to see a demonstration of inspirational skill and excitement. A press release issued by Mike Houghton, President and CEO of the National Championship Air Races and airshow, stated that Simpson "was a highly skilled pilot and fierce competitor, but more importantly she was a friend." Houghton told The Associated Press, "in every competition there is risk, and ours is the same." He added, "If you did away with the risk, you'd have checkers and Ping-Pong." Race officials would not speculate on the cause of the accident and the NTSB will investigate. A tribute for Simpson is planned for the opening ceremonies of the races.