Reno National Championship Air Races: Jimmy Leeward Pilots Plane – Galloping Ghost Crashes into Box Seats Video

A WWII Mustang P51 known as the Galloping Ghost crashed into the grandstand box seat area, maybe just in front of it, at the National Championship Air Races at the Reno-Stead airport. No deaths reported at this time: 75 injured according to Fox News with 25 in critical condition. A spokesman for the Reno event identified the pilot as Jimmy Leeward, 74. There is no information on his condition. As you’ll see in the report below, deaths are considered a certainty. Updates as available. SEE ONGOING UPDATES BELOW.

The Galloping Ghost read details in full here:

Witnesses to today’s crash at the Reno National Championship Air Races are describing a horrific scene, with multiple fatalities and body parts strewn across the tarmac at Reno-Stead Airport.

“It’s just like a massacre. It’s like a bomb went off,” said Dr. Gerald Lent of Reno, who witnessed the crash. “There are people lying all over the runway.”

The only thing the Korean War veteran could compare the scene to was combat.

“One guy was cut in half. There’s blood everywhere,” Lent said. “There’s arms and legs. One guy just said ‘hey, there’s another foot over here.”

Lent said the P-51 fighter was racing when the aircraft pulled straight up, made a roll and “went right into the audience” in the VIP area.

Juan Echeverria, 37, of Sparks, said he was about 100 feet away when the World War II-era fighter went down.

“The guy lost control, shot straight up into the air and came down into the people,” Echeverria said. “It hit full force, full throttle.”

The photo above is courtesy of Pacific Flyer (read the history here), who reports that the Galloping Ghost, owned by Jimmy Leeward of Ocala, Florida, had returned to Reno (2010) for the first time in 20 years.

The Galloping Ghost is a legendary aircraft in air racing history; it competed and won at the post-World War II Cleveland Air Races of the late 1940s. It was flown and won at the Reno  Races under different names, most notably “Jeannie” when Skip Holm piloted it to the Unlimited Gold championship as a rookie in 1981.

I have added a new video, the second below. A man is interviewed who was sitting on the front row of the groundstand, up against the box seats. He said it was obvious the pilot tried to miss the box seats. A good up-close eye-witness account.

UPDATE 9-18-11 9:25pm CDT: Reports today of some very unusual changes made to Galloping Ghost, that may have contributed to the plane’s sudden and swift descent (although, the investigation has reported nothing at this time for the cause of the crash).

The 65-year-old “Galloping Ghost” underwent years of massive overhauls that took a full 10 feet off its wingspan. The ailerons — the back edges of the main wings used to control balance — were cut from about 60 inches to 32.

Pilot Jimmy Leeward had said the changes made the P-51 Mustang faster and more maneuverable, but in the months before Friday’s crash even he wasn’t certain exactly how it would perform…

Leeward had said the plane underwent several years of modifications before Friday’s race, including lopping five feet off each wing, but he hadn’t revealed many of the specifics. In the podcast, he called some of the changes “extremely radical,” compared some to systems on the space shuttle and explained that he had increased the plane’s speed capabilities to be more like those of a modern fighter jet.

UPDATE 9-18-11 10am CDT: The number of dead has been revised down to three this morning, with the number injured at 50. Fifteen are in critical condition and 13 listed in serious condition.

UPDATE 9-17-11 5:35pm CDT: The death toll has changed again. Revised down this morning to 3, it has now risen to 9.

This afternoon on Fox, there was a report that the plane’s elevator, which helps the craft move and down, was possibly damaged. The following photo from Examiner/Reno is said to show the left elevator trim tab of the clipwing half broken.

Galloping Ghost

Upate 8:35 pm CDT: 12 people dead according to a Fox report this minute, including the pilot Jimmy Leeward. 50 people injured.

Update 8:25pm CDT: There is a pilot by the name of Jimmy Leeward who has appeared in several movies as a stunt pilot, including Dragonfly, The Tuskegee Airmen, and Smokey and the Bandit, Part 3 (with a P-51).

The following photo is identified as Jimmy Leeward. In 2002 he wrote a column for AAFO with the following bio:


About the Author
Jimmy Leeward: Throughout the modern history of the sport, pilot Extraordinaire, Jimmy Leeward’s name has become synonymous with Air Racing and classic flying. Over the course of his aviation career, Jimmy has exhibited his exceptional flying skills on the race course, as well as in the cockpit of a wide variety of airplanes. From the Ford Tri-Motor flown annually at Oshkosh to the fabulous aerial displays in his Mig-17, and just about anything in-between, Jimmy Leeward is one of the most trusted and skilled pilots currently flying.

Thanks to slicker0492 for the video.

10:42 am 9-17-11: A reader tells me the video was not working and so I have replaced the original with this one, which is also slicker0492’s.

Reno National Championship Air Race Crash (video)

An eye-witness says Leeward tried to miss the crowd (video)

Thanks to newshound extraordinaire, David Lemon (and Master Sculptor) for both of these videos and for CNN for the second.

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Linked by The Lonely Conservative with more links.

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  • Jenny

    Terribly sad…just feel sick over this tragedy.

    • Looks as if the plane was pushed to its limits! To much stress on that plane with that much power from its engine. Pilot did what he was supposed to. Unfortunatly, plane did’nt. Conclusion, no pilot error! Prayers to the fans!

  • This is just awful, I feel so bad for everyone involved!

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  • I’ve always left Tahoe just a few days before this show.. I’ve always wanted to go to it.. but now… kinda glad I didn’t.. Very sad for the loss of life and those who’s injuries will stay with them for the rest of their lives. My prayers are with them all.

    • Karen Cole Allard

      Sir – it was an experience you should of should enjoy – there is nothing else like it – My dad Duane Cole was higher in the 60’s to go in and set up the air races – what a thrill to hear those air planes roar and go by – what skill and power
      if you are still worried think about the traffice accident – drive-by shootings of children being murdered and what about the angry husband/wife killing their family – this was an accident not something Mr. Leeward planned on doing – my prayers do go to the spector (which include his own family) and the people who were hurt or killed.

  • Hans U Mueller

    The FAA has just decided to revoke the airmen’s certificates of all those pilots who participated in the Reno Air Race during the last 20 years or so on the ground of reckless flying.

    • AK

      You are an id10t

      • Hans U Mueller

        I knew, an intelligent person would come with this reply.

  • AK

    In regards to this event, where Jimmy Leeward lost his life. He did the best he could with the crippled aircraft. From the evidence, it looks like the airplane lost an elevator trim tab. This type of event has happened before and in the previous it put the pilot through a 10G maneuver before he was able to regain control and safely recover the airplane. In this case, the airplane was in a really bad situation when the event occurred. It is sad to see the loss of life of spectators and air crew. But, air racing in and of it self is extremely safe and has always had a history of pushing aircraft to their absolute limits. This is the very first time that any spectators at this event have ever lost a life.

  • Curtis

    God Speed to those who lost their lives and God Bless to those who have survived, if only to live with the psychological trauma of seeing things we shouldn’t. I’m certain, Jimmy, would not have wished any of this upon even his worst of all enemies, for this is simply a reminder to us all of the fine line we sometimes walk. Jimmy chose life and lived it to the fullest and that is simply the very best anyone of us could ever do. To those that remain behind, may God give each and everyone of you the courage to overcome any and all obstacles, real or imagined, that other’s may say you now have.

    God Bless,
    PTSD Survivor, Curtis