Reno Air Show Horror

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Air shows have become a staple of American life. But something went terribly wrong yesterday in Reno, NV, as a heavily modified, vintage World War Two P-51 fighter plane able to fly ass fast as 500 mph and make passes as low as 50 feet crashed into the grandstand killing nine people including the elderly pilot and injuring more than 60 spectators.

Reuters reports:

The plane, a P-51 Mustang dubbed the “Galloping Ghost” that was being flown by well-known pilot Jimmy Leeward, crashed into a box seat area in front of the main grandstand at the Reno Air Races, said Mike Draper of public relations firm R&R Partners, which represents the race.

“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.”

Video apparently taken from the stands and posted on YouTube showed a plane plunging nose-down into the tarmac as spectators were heard gasping: “Oh, my God.”

Debris billowed near the crash site, and officials then told spectators to remain where they were so emergency workers could get to the scene.

“It was like a war zone where the box seats were,” said Dean Davis, an Oregon man who has attended the Reno Air Races for decades. “All the people were laying there.”

Video of the crash was posted on You Tube.

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7 Responses to Reno Air Show Horror

  1. feminazi says:

    My condolences to all the injured and loved ones of the dead. I have taken my nephew to a couple of air shows and the thought of a crash was always in the back of my mind. They are like NASCAR in the air. Both thrilling and yet risky.

  2. TOM339 says:

    The P-51 Mustang is no different from any other plane. When you modify the so it can fly at speeds in excess of 500 mph, and keep it low to the ground, there is little wiggle room to make any course corrections in the event of an emergency.

    I’ve watched the posted video three times and it looks like the P-51 moved out of formation nosing straight up and then down, before crashing. Pilot error is a possibility but wing and flaps control failure is a possibility too.

    The thing that surprised me is the complete absence of fire. Usually when a plane crashes into the ground there is an explosion but not this time. I wonder if he was low on fuel and his instruments didn’t show it?

  3. I wondered why there was no fire too, Tom339.

    The “nose up” flight behavior before it crashed made me wonder if the pilot become disoriented?

  4. joost says:

    My money is on mechanical error of some sort. The trim in a plane this old isn’t something I want to control my fate at speeds of 500mpg. The crash site looked like a war zone. But as everyone said, the absence of fire means the NTSB will have an easier time reconstructing the events that led to the demise of the plane.

  5. Robyn says:

    I’ve heard this is likely a mechanical error. The pilot was in good health and very experienced at air racing. In fact, he had done a lot of stunt piloting for Hollywood through the years.

    With the angle of how the plane hit the ground and where it was in the air I think the pilot did everything he could to prevent it from making a direct hit on the grandstands itself and only took out the front row instead.

    A very sad day for racing. It’s right up there with the 1955 Le Mans race and the 1961 Italian Grand Prix. Many spectators perished in those accidents.

  6. Scott Dancer says:

    Maybe new rules need to be in place to move the flight action away from the grandstands where people sit?

    Eye witness reports from the crash site say shrapnel from the doomed P-51 fell on spectators and severed hands and legs. This was a war zone in every sense of the definition.

    I love air shows and I have attended dozens over the years but always in the back of my mind I think about “what if?” So I sit as far back from the tarmac as possible.

  7. World of Wonder says:

    This was so brutal and tragic. You go to an airshow expecting to have fun. Not watch carnage and people carried away on stretchers to awaiting ambulances. 9 dead and 60 injured.

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