3 dead, 56 injured in horrific air show crash

By: reno,air,show,crash
By: reno,air,show,crash

RENO, Nev. (AP) - A vintage World War II-era fighter plane
plunged into the grandstands Friday during a popular annual air
show, killing at least three people, injuring more than 50
spectators and creating a horrific scene strewn with body parts and
smoking debris.
The plane, flown by an 80-year-old pilot, spiraled suddenly out
of control and appeared to disintegrate upon impact. Bloodied
bodies were spread across the area as people tended to the victims
and ambulances rushed to the scene.
Maureen Higgins of Alabama, who has been coming to the show for
16 years, said the pilot was on his third lap when he lost control.
She was sitting about 30 yards away from the crash and watched
in horror as the man in front of her started bleeding after a piece
of debris hit him in the head.
"I saw body parts and gore like you wouldn't believe it. I'm
talking an arm, a leg," Higgins said "The alive people were
missing body parts. I am not kidding you. It was gore. Unbelievable
Among the dead was pilot Jimmy Leeward, 80, of Ocala, Fla., who
flew the P-51 Mustang named the "Galloping Ghost," according to
Mike Houghton, president and CEO of Reno Air Races.
Renown Medical Center spokeswoman Kathy Carter confirmed that
two others died, but did not provide their identities.
Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency
Medical Service Authority, told The Associated Press that emergency
crews took a total of 56 injury victims to three hospitals. She
said they also observed a number of people being transported by
private vehicle, which they are not including in their count.
Kruse said of the total 56, at the time of transport, 15 were
considered in critical condition, 13 were serious condition with
potentially life-threatening injuries and 28 were non-serious or
non-life threatening.
"This is a very large incident, probably one of the largest
this community has seen in decades," Kruse told The Associated
Press. "The community is pulling together to try to deal with the
scope of it. The hospitals have certainly geared up and staffed up
to deal with it."
The P-51 Mustang crashed into a box-seat area in front of the
grandstand at about 4:30 p.m., race spokesman Mike Draper said.
Houghton said Leeward appeared to have "lost control of the
aircraft," though details on why that happened weren't immediately
KRNV-TV weatherman Jeff Martinez, who was just outside the air
race grounds at the time, said the plane veered to the right and
then "it just augered straight into the ground."
"You saw pieces and parts going everywhere," he said.
"Everyone is in disbelief."
Tanya Breining, off Hayward, Calif., told KTVU-TV in San
Francisco: "It was absolute carnage ... It looked like more than a
bomb exploded."
Another witness, Ronald Sargis, said he was sitting in the box
seat area near the finish line.
"We could see the plane coming around the far turn - it was in
trouble," Sargis told KCRA-TV in Sacramento. "About six or seven
boxes down from us, it impacted into the front row."
He said the pilot appeared to do all he could to avoid crashing
into the crowd. Response teams immediately went to work, Sargis
said. After the crash Sargis went up a few rows into the grandstand
to view the downed plane.
"It appeared to be just pulverized," he said.
Leeward, the owner of the Leeward Air Ranch Racing Team, was a
well-known racing pilot. His website says he has flown more than
120 races and served as a stunt pilot for numerous movies,
including "Amelia" and "Cloud Dancer."
In an interview with the Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner last year, he
described how he has flown 250 types of planes and has a particular
fondness for the P-51, which came into the war relatively late and
was used as a long-range bomber escort over Europe. Among the
famous pilots of the hot new fighter was WWII double ace Chuck
"They're more fun. More speed, more challenge. Speed, speed and
more speed," Leeward said.
Houghton described Leeward as "a good friend. Everybody knows
him. It's a tight knit family. He's been here for a long, long
time," Houghton said.
The National Championship Air Races draws thousands of people
every year in September to watch various military and civilian
planes race. They also have attracted scrutiny in the past over
safety concerns, including four pilots killed in 2007 and 2008. It
was such a concern that local school officials once considered
whether they should not allow student field trips at the event.
The competition is like a car race in the sky, with planes
flying wingtip-to-wingtip as low as 50 feet off the sagebrush at
speeds sometimes surpassing 500 mph. Pilots follow an oval path
around pylons, with distances and speeds depending on the class of
The FAA and air race organizers spend months preparing for air
races as they develop a plan involving pilot qualification,
training and testing along with a layout for the course. The FAA
inspects pilots' practice runs and brief pilots on the route
maneuvers and emergency procedures.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., issued a statement saying he was
"deeply saddened" about the crash.
"My thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their
lives and with those who were wounded in this horrific tragedy,"
he said. "I am so grateful to our first responders for their swift
action and will continue to monitor this situation as it

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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