Air Show Tragedy in Reno: September 16, 2011

'Galloping Ghost': Jimmy Leeward, 74, photographed with his P51 Mustang in September, 2010. A spokesman for Reno's National Championship Air Races says it was this plane piloted by Mr Leeward that crashed


The cause of yesterday’s crash, in front of an estimated 75,000 spectators at 4.30pm local time (12.30am today BST), was not immediately known. But an event official said there were indications mechanical problems were involved.

Maureen Higgins of Alabama, who has been coming to the show for 16 years, said the pilot was on his third lap when he lost control.

Nosedive: The P-51 Mustang airplane is shown right before crashing into the grandstand

She was sitting about 30yds away from the crash and watched in horror as the man in front of her started bleeding after a piece of debris hit him in the head.

‘I saw body parts and gore like you wouldn’t believe it. I’m talking an arm, a leg,’ Ms Higgins said. ‘ I am not kidding you. It was gore. Unbelievable gore.’

Read more:

Terror: The plane explodes on impact blasting debris through the air as spectators duck for cover


The crash, which happened just before 4:30 p.m. during the National Championship Air Races at the Reno-Stead Airport, left a horrific scene strewn with smoking debris.

Bloodied bodies were spread across the area as people tended to the victims and ambulances rushed to the scene. Video of the aftermath showed a man with his leg severed at the knee.


Tim Linville, 48, of Reno, said the pilot appeared to lose partial control off the plane when he veered off course and flew over the bleachers near where Linville was standing with his two daughters.

“I told the girls to run and the pilot pulled the plane straight up, but he couldn’t do anything else with it,” Linville told the AP. “That’s when it nosedived right into the box seats.”

Linville said after the plane went straight up, it barrel rolled and inverted downward, crashing into an area where at least 20 people were sitting.

“If he wouldn’t have pulled up, he would have taken out the entire bleacher section,” and hurt thousands of people, Linville said.

Linville said the plane smashed into the ground and shattered like an enormous water balloon, sending shrapnel and debris into the crowd.

“It was just flying everywhere,” he said.


The plane, a P-51 Mustang, dubbed the “Galloping Ghost” that was being flown by Jimmy Leeward, 74, crashed at 4.30pm local time (11.30pm GMT) into a box seat area in front of the main grandstand at the Reno Air Races,.

“I heard his engine and looked up. He was within 100 feet. He was coming right down on top of us,” witness Fred Scholz told CNN, adding that the plane had first flown closer to the stands than allowed. “It just happened very quick.”

The Federal Aviation Administration halted the air race after the crash, and was investigating the incident alongside the National Transportation Safety Board, an FAA official said.


Planes at the yearly event fly wingtip-to-wingtip as low as 50 feet off the sagebrush at speeds sometimes surpassing 500 mph. Pilots follow an oval path around pylons, with distances and speeds depending on the class of aircraft.

Mike Houghton, president and CEO of Reno Air Races, said at a news conference hours after the crash that there appeared to be a “problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control.” He did not elaborate.

He said the rest of the races have been canceled as the National Transportation Safety Board investigates.

“The way I see it, if he did do something about this, he saved hundreds if not thousands of lives because he was able to veer that plane back toward the tarmac,” said Johnny Norman, who was at the show.

O’Brien, who is chairman of an air show in his hometown in California, was photographing Friday’s races when the crash occurred.

He said the P-51 Mustang was racing six other planes, and was in the process of moving from third place into second, when it pitched violently upward, rolled and then headed straight down.

From the photos he took, O’Brien said it looked like a piece of the plane’s tail called a “trim tab” had fallen off. He believes that’s what caused the plane’s sudden climb.,0,5971948.story


Tragedy is such a common term in our vernacular.  We seem to live with it daily on this planet traversing the cosmos.

By nature air shows are dangerous.  A thousand things could go wrong in performances.

What happened in Reno on September 16 was an event which no one was prepared for, especially for Jimmy Leeward, the pilot.  Based on accounts, Mr. Leeward did his best to fly his damaged plane away from the people.

People died and many are in critical condition.  The tragedy could have been more horrendous if it had crashed into the bleachers.

Undoubtedly, after the mourning and grief have passed, there will be countless lawsuits which will drag into the next decade based on how litigation tends to work in the USA. This seems to be a result how tragedies of this nature are dealt with by people.

Remember those who are suffering because of this tragic accident. Always, as best as you can, be prepared.  One never knows when his/her last day on earth will be.

This is the reality in which we exist.  Appreciate life and enjoy it because tomorrow may never come for you. 

G. D. Williams       © 2011

Jimmy Leeward,0,3257381.story