Friends of an air racer and movie stunt pilot whose plane crashed into the edge of the grandstand at a Reno, Nevada air show Friday night said the pilot, Jimmy Leeward, 74, of Ocala, Fla., was a skilled airman and member of a tight-knit flying community.
Leeward apparently lost control of the P-51 Mustang he was flying, which then spiraled into a box seat area at the National Championship Air Races at about 4:30 p.m. Friday. Leeward and at least two others were killed; dozens were injured, The Associated Press reported.
There could be mass casualties, officials said.
Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority, said at least 15 of the 50 injured are in critical condition. Three hospitals had taken in patients, Ms. Kruse said, including some victims with severed limbs.
Reno Air Races President and CEO Mike Houghton said family members were at the air show and witnessed the crash.
They obviously are devastated, he said. I talked to Jimmy's son and his wife wanted me to know that Jimmy would not want us to cancel the races, but sometimes you have to do things that are not very popular.
The pilot's medical records were up-to-date and he was a very qualified, very experienced pilot, Houghton said. Leeward had been racing at the show in Reno since 1975.
Everybody knows him. It's a tight-knit family, Houghton said. He's been here for a long, long time.
Federal investigators were expected to arrive on Saturday to determine why the vintage place crashed.
A day before the crash, in an interview from Airshow TV, Leeward expressed confidence about his prospects in the race -- while hinting that his team would fly even faster in the days to come.
We're as fast as anybody in the field, and maybe even faster, he said. We've been playing poker since last Monday, so we're ready to show a couple more cards (so) we'll see what happens.
Video of the crash, posted on YouTube, showed a plane plummeting from the sky, sending up clouds of dust and debris. Shocked spectators rose to their feet.
Kim Fonda said she also saw the plane streaking toward where she was seated in the grandstand, CNN reported.
I closed my eyes and said I am going to die now, Fonda said. I was literally preparing to die and then he jerked the plane away and it landed like 25 feet from us. I want his family to know he was a hero.
The plane, called the Galloping Ghost, was taking part in a qualifying round in the unlimited class division of the air race when it went down around 4:15 p.m. PT Friday, said Mike Draper, the show spokesman. The final rounds had been slated for the weekend.