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Small plane crashes at Oklahoma City airport

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A small airplane crashed during air races at Clarence Page Municipal Airport in far west 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 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.

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 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.

A friend of the pilot, Neal Nurmi, said he was following emergency procedures by pulling out of the race and gaining altitude before the crash.

``As far as I could tell, he was doing everything right up until the moment that something happened,'' Nurmi said.

Authorities didn't release the name of the man who was killed, pending notification of his relatives, police Sgt. Kyle Webb said late Sunday.

Scott Keith, manager for Clarence Page and Wiley Post airports, said officials believe the ground crew member saw the crash and rushed with other to go help.

``There was one person doing CPR but he was doing the breathing and the compressions. So I did the breathing with the other guy doing the compressions but we realized that he was very badly injured,'' said Birgitta Nurmi, a spectator.

She described the man as a ``very competent mechanic'' and nice person.

``It's sad to see this happen to a man like this. This is tragic,'' she said.

This is the first year the air races have been held at Clarence Page, Keith said. 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. but the rest were canceled after the accident.

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.''
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