Photo from Reno Gazette Journal
Photo from Reno Gazette Journal
Photo from Reno Gazette Journal
Jimmy Leeward; Photo from Reno Gazette-Journal
UPDATED STORY: Death toll increases to 5 in Reno air races crash
RENO, Nev. - An airplane that crashed near the grandstand at the National Championship Air Races near Reno Friday afternoon left at least three dead, including the pilot, and 54 injured, according to authorities.
During a news conference, President and CEO of the Reno Air Race Mike Houghton said that the investigation will be handed over to the National Transportation and Safety Board, NTSB.
All 54 injured after the crash have been transported to local hospitals Houghton said.
So far, only three fatalities, including the pilot of the plane, have been confirmed.
"We do not have a final count of the number of deceased," Houghton said. "They will be releasing those numbers as they happen. There have been some that are deceased. Some of their statuses have changed since they were transported."
According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, Renown Medical Center said three people have died in the Reno Air Races crash, and nine of the 22 patients being treated at the medical center are in critical condition.
Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority spokeswoman Stephanie Kruse said said 25 people were critically injured and another 25 people were seriously hurt in the crash. More than 25 people were treated for minor injuries, she said.
Kruse said the critically injured were considered to have life-threatening injuries.
The number of casualties and injuries are in flux as the condition at the scene changes and rescue crews get more information.
The pilot of the plane was 74-year-old Jimmy Leeward, a real estate developer from Ocala, Fla. Witnesses at the scene said the plane involved in the crash was Galloping Ghost, No. 177.
The World War II era P51 Mustang missed the grandstand, but hit box seats at around 4 p.m., according to witness Carly Holmes. She described the plane as going straight up and then shaking before plowing into the ground.
The plane crashed into the box seat area, located on the tarmac. The box area is dense, Houghton said, with 300 to 400 available seating.
Houghton said it's too early to know for sure what caused the wreck, but said there appeared to be a "problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control."
Houghton told reporters at the news conference that none of the flight courses came near the crowd.
Reno air race official Mike Draper describes the crash as a "mass casualty situation."
Concerned family members should call 775.972.6663 to check the status of family and friends. Air Race staff is working to locate and establish the status of all involved.
Jeff Martinez, a KRNV weatherman, was just outside the air race grounds at the time of the crash. He said he saw a plane veer to the right and then "it just augured straight into the ground."
He said he saw "pieces and parts going everywhere."
Witnesses told the Reno Gazette Journal the crash is 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 plane did not explode but "just disintegrated into debris," Echeverria said. "There's a huge crater where it hit."
Echeverria described a horrific scene.
"It's shocking," he said. "The scene is very gruesome."
Lent said in his opinion, the crash could spell the end of the air races in Reno.
"I don't know how we can have air races here again," he said. "It's over."
FATALITY HISTORY OF RENO AIR RACE
The RGJ.com reports, prior to Friday, there were 16 fatalities during the National Championship Air Races since the Reno event began in 1964.
Three crashes that claimed the lives of three pilots was the worst week for the races prior to Friday.
Fatal crashes at the National Championship Air Races include:
• Sept. 13, 2007: Brad Morehouse, Aston, Wyo., dies in crash of L-39 jet during race.
• Sept. 11, 2007: Steve Dari, Lemon Grove, Calif., biplane crashed on takeoff during practice.
• 2002: Tommy Rose of Hickory, Miss., sport class racer crashed into sagebrush during a race.
• 1999: Gary Levitz of Grand Prairie, Texas, P-51 disintegrated during a race, scattering debris and damaging a house.
• 1998: Dick Roberts of Maybee, Mich., Formula One crashed in the desert after a race. Roberts had suffered a massive heart attack.
• 1994: Bill Speer of La Mesa, Calif., P-51 crashed next to the east-west runway after engine failure sprayed his windshield with oil.
• 1994: Ralph Twombly of Wellsville, N.Y., T-6 crashed after colliding with another T-6 at the start of a race. His plane crashed beside a house west of the airport.
• 1993: Rick Brickert, 38, Sandy, Utah, Unlimited named Pond Racer crashed in the desert while preparing to land. The 38-year-old former champion died in the twin-engine racer died during an emergency landing after an engine malfunction.
• 1989: Errol Roberson, 49, of Warrenton, Ore., Formula One crashed after being caught in a dust devil during a race.
• 1987: Errol Johnstad, 48, of West Berlin, East Germany, Formula One crashed after losing lift and fell out of the sky. The cause remained mysterious.
• 1981: Bob Downey, 64, of Whittier, Calif., Formula One crashed west of the airport 300 yards from homes in the Silver Knolls area during practicing. It was unclear what caused the crash - an airplane malfunction or a health problem with the pilot was on what one official called a "radical diet."
• 1979: Fred Wofford, 41, of Reno, Formula One crashed in a turn during a race. The crash was a mile from the grandstands and wasn't seen by several pilots in the heat.
• 1978: Dimitry Prian of Long Beach, Calif., and Don DeWalt of El Monte, Calif., T-6s collided during a race.
• 1975: M.D. Washburn, 40, of Houston, Texas, when the wing of his T-6 clipped a pylon and crashed while in a tight formation at the start of the race.
• 1975: Gordon McCollom of Costa Mesa, Calif., the wing-walker was hanging under the plane as it suddenly dropped too close to the runway in what one official called a "freakish downdraft" and he scraped his upper head on the runway. He died instantly.
• 1972: H.E. Tommy Thomas, 50, of Sacramento, biplane crashed during a race. Thomas, the owner of aircraft sales firm, died when his plane slammed to the ground at 150 mph. The high-powered racer was on the first lap of an eight-lap race when it fell from a group of racers.
Races at the Reno-Stead Airport for the rest of the year have been cancelled.
The National Championship Air Races draws thousands of people every year in September to watch various military and civilian planes race.
The Reno-Stead Airport, where the air races were taking place, is 15 miles north of Reno.
YouTube Video: Plane crashes into crowd at Reno Air Race
YouTube Video: Witness describes crash while showing scene after crash
YouTube Video: Planes come back around during lap, P15 crashes into crowd
LiveStream video of crash - Witness streaming Reno Air Race live catches crash on camera. Crash can be seen around the 40 minute mark
YouTube video of the plane Galloping Ghost, pilot
The Associated Press and News10/KXTV