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.
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.
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.|
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.