In September 1951, during an air show in Colorado, a pilot performing an aerial stunt couldn’t pull up in time and plunged into the crowd. The plane slammed into the spectators and burst into flames, killing 23 people and injuring 50 more, according to the Detroit Free Press. In the aftermath of the accident, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration put special safety precautions into place to try to prevent another such tragedy, according to CBS News. There hasn’t been an air show spectator fatality in the U.S. since 1951 after the FAA instituted changes, including planes flying at least 500 feet from the spectators. If performing aerobatic maneuvers, the planes must use a “dedicated airspace” and can’t fly towards the crowd, per CBS News. Because of this, watching air shows in the U.S. is pretty safe.
In 2022, there were an average of 1.4 deaths a year from air show crashes in the decade prior, two a year in the 20 years prior, and 3.5 a year from 1988 to 2022, according to the Dayton Daily News. Deaths have been steadily going down, John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows, told the newspaper. One of the biggest such accidents happened in November 2022 when two vintage war planes collided midair during the Wings Over Dallas air show, killing six people, according to WFAA.