Friday night in Reno was straight out of a “Final Destination” movie…
Nine federal investigators arrived from Washington on Saturday at the site of a deadly air show accident just north of Reno to help determine why a vintage plane crashed into a crowd on Friday afternoon, killing at least two people, including the pilot, and maiming dozens of spectators.
The accident, at the National Championship Air Races and Air Show, a popular annual attraction that draws thousands each year, injured more than 50 people, at least 15 of them critically, said Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority in Reno. Three hospitals received patients, Ms. Kruse said, including some with severed limbs.
On Friday night, Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada visited the scene of the crash at Reno-Stead Airport, a small general aviation outpost in the hills north of the city, and offered prayers for the victims and their families. “I know every member of the Nevada family is thinking tonight of those we have lost and those we cherish,” Mr. Sandoval said in a statement.
Air race officials identified the pilot as Jimmy Leeward, 74, a real estate developer who had flown in the event many times. According to his Facebook page, Mr. Leeward, of Ocala, Fla., had more than 30 years of flight experience. He had been flying a P-51 Mustang, a World War II-era fighter nicknamed the Galloping Ghost.
Whether the death toll would increase was uncertain, but the shock of the accident was still palpable on Saturday morning, as witnesses and race participants struggled to make sense of what had happened. “We’re here to entertain,” said David Costa, a pilot and owner of one of the event’s competing airplanes. “We’re here to get their heart pumping a little bit. We’re not here to kill them.”
Mr. Costa had been about 100 yards from site of the crash when Mr. Leeward’s plane suddenly shot skyward at about 4:20 p.m. Cameron Mason, an airplane mechanic with another flight team, said the plane then spun and fell nose first to the ground, crashing into a seating area in front of the main grandstand.
“He just went straight up and made an abrupt turn and came straight down,” Mr. Mason said. “And he crashed into an area where I was hoping there wouldn’t be a big crowd of people. But there was.”
Videos showed a row of small planes flying over the crowd when suddenly a thin plume of brown smoke burst from the back of Mr. Leeward’s plane, which almost immediately shot to the ground. In one video, the camera found the plane a moment later in a sea of people, a trail of debris spread along the tarmac.
Mr. Mason said that he and other aircraft mechanics at the show speculated that Mr. Leeward’s plane might have had a failure of its trim tab, a critical part of the tail’s controls, possibly leading to a more catastrophic failure. “If it flutters enough,” he said, “your flight controls can rip off.”
This is the 74-year-old pilot who’s plane crashed.