Friday, September 16, 2011

UPDATE- 9/18: At Least 3 Killed, 50 Injured After World War II Era Plane Crashes Into Crowd At Nevada Air Show

UPDATE 9/18- The death toll in the Air Races crash has been raised to nine.

At least three people were killed and more than 50 injured when a P-51 Mustang crashed into a crowd during an air show in Reno, NV on Friday night.

Photo: Reno Gazette-Journal
Investigators were scrambling to determine what caused a powerful World War II vintage racing plane traveling at up to 400 mph to plunge toward spectators at the fabled Reno air races late Friday afternoon, leaving a shattered trail of twisted debris and broken bodies.

At least three people were confirmed dead, including the pilot, and more than 50 were injured, about 15 of them critically. Because of the number and the extent of the injuries, the death toll could rise, officials said.

"I did have an opportunity to visit the site, and it is horrific," Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said after the nation's premier aviation race turned swiftly into a disaster scene for onlookers seated near the path of the deep-throated planes hurtling 400 feet overhead.

"As I saw the plane coming directly at us, I dove," said Nick Sorrentino, 19, an audio technician who was standing just below the stands when the plane hit. "It was mass chaos. People running. People on the ground. Body parts all over the ground."

The National Championship Air Races in Reno feature some of the fastest racing planes in the world traveling at breakneck speed around pylons on a course suspended above Reno-Stead Airport, about 15 miles north of the city.

Danger is an expected part of the program for pilots — 19 others have died in the races since 1964. But Friday's accident was the first to involve spectators, race president Mike Houghton said.
The pilot was identified as 74 year old Jimmy Leeward, a veteran stunt pilot who appeared in movies and ran the Florida-based Leeward Air Ranch. Eyewitness accounts said that the plane attempted to steer away from the VIP grandstand section at the last minute, possible indicating some sort of mechanical failure.

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