Small Plane Crashes at Okla. Airport

A small airplane crashed during air races at Clarence Page Municipal Airport (search) west of Oklahoma City on Sunday, seriously injuring the pilot and leaving a would-be rescuer dead.

The small, single-engine airplane lost power and crashed at 12:25 p.m., Federal Aviation Administration (search) spokesman John Clabes said. The pilot was airlifted to an Oklahoma City hospital and was listed in critical condition.

A ground crew member at the airport was killed when he fell out of the back of a pickup truck that raced to the scene of the crash, Clabes said. His identity wasn't released.

There were no other reports of injuries.

Officials didn't immediately release the name of the person flying the plane, which was registered to James Debus of Lincoln, Neb.

Debus' wife, Lee Debus, said the airplane was being flown by Steve Mountain, also of Lincoln. She described the one-seat airplane plane as a custom-built racing plane that her husband and Mountain helped build.

Oklahoma City Fire Department (search) Maj. Phil Sipe said it appeared the small plane hit the edge of the runway.

"The debris field was scattered over a fairly small area, and there was a gouge on the east edge of the runway," Sipe said. "[The plane] appeared to tumble, the wings were torn off the fuselage and it came to a stop within 50 feet of the runway."

Sipe said firefighters pulled the pilot from the fuselage, which was left mostly intact after the crash.

This is the first year the air races have been held at Clarence Page, said Scott Keith, manager for Clarence Page and Wiley Post airports. The two-day event featured three to four races a day between heats of five planes, he said.

Sunday's races began about 10 a.m.

Sherri Sturgill, who helped organize the event for Formula One Pylon Racing, said about 12 racers were participating in Sunday's event, which involved as many as five pilots racing against each other simultaneously.

"It's a lot of speed on a tight course," Sturgill said.

Sturgill said Sunday's accident won't prevent racers from returning to action next week for races in Tunica, Miss.

"It's part of air racing," Sturgill said. "It's just an unfortunate part."

Scott Rayburn, the owner of Aerospace Refinishing, Inc. on the airport grounds, said the planes involved in the races are small, propeller-driven aircraft between 12- and 15-feet long.

"They're like oversized model airplanes," Rayburn said. "This is definitely not something you want to fly in from here to Texas.

"They look like coffins with wings."