According to Reno police a total of nine people were killed and other 69 were injured on Friday when a World War II aircraft crashed during the Air Races at Reno-Stead Airport in Nevada.
The airplane crash happened at around 4:30 pm local time on Friday when a P-51D Mustang known as The Galloping Ghost, being flown by 74-year-old Jimmy Leeward from Florida, crashed into a box seat area in front of the main grandstand after a steep nose-dive.
The death and injury toll rose from early reports of three deaths, including the pilot. Two of the victims died at a local hospital and the other seven, including the pilot, died on the tarmac at the airfield, officials said.
In addition to the nine deaths, 69 people injured have been reported, some of whom were already released on early Saturday morning. More than ten people remain in a critical condition.
Renown Regional Medical Center said it received a total of 30 patients, including a male and female who were pronounced dead, six other people remain in a critical condition while two people are in a serious condition, five in fair condition, and one in good condition. Fourteen patients were discharged by Saturday morning.
According to Renown Regional Medical Center spokesman, Dan Davis, Renown South Meadows Medical Center also received five patients who were in a fair condition and were discharged on Saturday morning.
Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center and its affiliated medical facilities received a total of 28 patients, of whom 12 were treated and released within hours of the accident. Two people remained in a critical condition on Saturday while seven are in serious condition and five are in fair condition.
“Given the nature of the accident, Saint Mary’s is treating injuries due to both blunt force and penetrating trauma,” said Jamii Uboldi, a spokesperson for the medical center.
“Common injuries being treated at the hospital include fractures of the legs, arms, ribs and fingers, head injuries, amputations, abrasions, lacerations, and chemical burns.”
Northern Nevada Medical Center received a total of eight injured people, six of them were in serious condition, while two others were in good condition.
A memorial for the victims which had been scheduled for Saturday afternoon by the family of Jimmy Leeward was canceled.
“The Reno Air Racing Association is planning a public vigil to be held in the near future,” the Association said in a Saturday statement.
“We are working to release details by the end of today.”
Both the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) are investigating the cause of the accident.
Investigators for the NTSB had on Saturday taken control of operations at the local airport north of Reno where the air races were held.
“The NTSB has this entire airfield locked down,” said Roy Burgess, a spokesman for the National Championship Air Races, which puts on the event.
In a press conference Saturday afternoon, NTSB board member Mark Rosekind said that during a low-altitude pass in a qualifying heat, the plane suddenly pitched up and “climbed briefly,” suggesting that its single engine may have been putting out power. But then the aircraft “nosed over quickly” and bored almost vertically into the spectators.
Mark Rosekind also said investigators had recovered an aircraft component close to where a bystander’s photo showed a piece seemingly breaking off the plane while it was still flying. Investigators haven’t verified the accuracy of the photo, which early bystander reports suggested could have meant some type of structural problem near the tail. But the safety board is pursuing the lead, intends to interview bystanders and “is very clearly going to focus” on the issue.
The accident took place under partly cloudy skies as spectators were watching the last race of the day, called “the Gold Race” pitting Jimmy Leeward’s P-51 Mustang – the “Galloping Ghost,” a sleek silver machine with a red-tipped black propeller – against about six other vintage planes.
Just two hours prior to the race, Jimmy Leeward was in the pit area for his plane signing autographs on spectator race shirts – a custom at air shows.