Exactly a year after a crash that killed 10 spectators and the pilot of a modified World War II era airplane, the Reno Air Races returned to action in the skies over western Nevada.
An emotional memorial ceremony was held around noon Sunday (3 p.m. ET) at Reno-Stead Airport, stirring up sad, difficult memories for the thousands in attendance and bringing at least one son of a person killed in last year's crash to tears.
Reflecting on the "devastating blow" that last year's crash dealt to the Reno "air race family," Reno Air Racing Association President and CEO Mike Houghton talked about the "tremendous sorrow" many had experienced and the resilience and courage of those whose relatives were killed.
"In their absence, our lives have changed," Houghton said of the 11 victims. "Yet I have seen firsthand that through their memories and through watching and getting to know those they left behind, we can better understand what it means to love and to live."
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, then gave brief descriptions of each person killed. A short time later, the victims' names were read out again -- with a white balloon released into the air for each one.
The ceremony ended with a parachutist dropping in with the American flag at the end of the national anthem
Soon thereafter, races resumed with aircraft once again crisscrossing the skies.
Earlier, Houghton said most people would not have bet that the Reno Air Races would happen this year. That did not hold true, though there have been notable differences: Advance ticket sales were down 7% to 8% from previous years, and the crowds in the first few days since the event opened on Wednesday have been smaller, the association's leader said.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, last year's crash of the modified P-51 airplane -- named "Galloping Ghost" and flown by pilot Jimmy Leeward -- was caused by the failure of several lock nuts on the left trim tab, which is part of the airplane's tail. The worn nuts allowed the screws to loosen, ultimately leading the aircraft to plunge into the ground in front of the box seating area, killing Leeward and 10 spectators. More than 60 others were injured.
The Reno Air Race Association made several changes ahead of this year's event to improve safety, as recommended by the federal safety board and the association's own expert panel.