A National Transportation Safety Board team will head up the investigation of the crash of a vintage plane at an air race in Reno, Nevada Friday. The pilot and at least two people in the stands were killed' dozens were left injured, several critically. Officials also reported mass casualties.
Nothing will be off the table when this investigation begins. Clearly, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, said Mark Rosenker, a CBS News consultant on aviation safety and a former NTSB chairman. Now, what we have, though, is video from a number of sources, a number of still pictures, and the ability, perhaps, even to have some tapes (of) conversations between the tower, the controllers and the pilot himself.
Friends of air racer and movie stunt pilot, Jimmy Leeward, 74, of Ocala, Fla., whose plane crashed into the edge of the grandstand in Reno, said he was a skilled airman and member of a tight-knit flying community.
But 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.
Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority, said 25 people were critically injured and another 25 people were seriously hurt in the crash. More than 25 more people were treated for minor injuries, she said.
Kruse said the critically injured were considered to have life-threatening injuries.
This is a very large incident, probably one of the largest this community has seen in decades, Kruse told The Associated Press. The community is pulling together to try to deal with the scope of it. The hospitals have certainly geared up and staffed up to deal with it.
KRNV-TV weatherman Jeff Martinez, who was just outside the air race grounds at the time, said the plane veered to the right and then it just augered straight into the ground.
You saw pieces and parts going everywhere, he said. Everyone is in disbelief.
Reno Air Races President and CEO Mike Houghton said Leeward's 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.
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.