Photographs taken moments before the World War II-era plane went out of control during Reno air race appear to show the pilot was unconscious, according to aviation experts.
According to investigators, the age and medical history of 74-year-old pilot Jimmy Leeward may also prove relevant to their investigation.
A 10th person died overnight from injuries suffered Friday at Reno, Nevada air racing tragedy.
Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Jamii Uboldi said Monday morning the patient who died was male, but she couldn’t immediately release his name, age and hometown.
ABC News consultant and former pilot Steve Ganyard said that after examining images of the plane before it hit the ground, it appeared Jimmy Leeward was not conscious.
Picture of P-51 Mustang airplane taken moments before crashing at Reno Air Race shows the pilot is absent from the cockpit
“There is no pilot’s head in that cockpit.
“It tells me that he was likely unconscious, slumped over the controls.”
The video was shot by a member of the crowd and shown this morning on NBC’s “Today” program.
The news came as it was revealed the aircraft had undergone substantial changes since it was first built in the 1940s, which were done to improve the planes speed and not its safety.
Shattered pieces of the P-51 Mustang’s tail have been recovered that may explain why the pilot lost control.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Sunday the memory cards will be analyzed to see if there is any footage from the outward facing camera.
Before it crashed, the aircraft also sent information to the racing team crew including oil pressure and temperature, altitude and velocity. That information could help investigators determine what caused the plane to crash.
Investigators said they have not yet been able to verify reports the pilot sent a mayday call before crashing.
The 65-year-old Galloping Ghost underwent years of massive overhauls that took a full 10 feet off its wingspan.
The ailerons – the back edges of the main wings used to control balance – were cut from about 60 inches to 32.
Before he died, Jimmy Leeward had said the changes made the P-51 Mustang faster and more manoeuvrable, but in the months before Friday’s crash even he wasn’t certain exactly how it would perform.
Officials have been focusing on the “elevator trim tab” – a piece of the tail that helps the aircraft maintain lift and appeared to break off before the crash.
The aircraft impacted on the tarmac like a missile, leaving a three-foot deep crater with debris scattered for an acre around the site. A picture taken moments earlier shows the tail piece missing.
From a tour of the site Saturday evening, it appeared that the plane went straight down in the first few rows of VIP box seats, based on the crater’s location.
The aircraft impacted on the tarmac like a missile, leaving a three-foot deep crater with debris scattered for an acre around the site
Investigators also found several pieces of the doomed plane’s tail on Sunday as they resumed their search.
Reno police also provided a GPS mapping system to help investigators recreate the crash scene.
Investigators said they also recovered part of the tail section, where the tab is located.
As investigators look for answers, a photograph has emerged showing that a piece of the tail was missing before the aircraft plummeted to the ground.
NTSB spokesman Mark Rosekind said at a news conference:
“Pictures and video appear to show a piece of the plane was coming off.
“A component has been recovered. We have not identified the component or if it even came from the airplane … We are going to focus on that.”
Tim O’Brien from Grass Valley, California, who is chairman of an air show in his hometown and photographed Friday’s races, took the picture which shows the part missing.
He said pilot Jimmy Leeward’s P-51 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.
Two victims of the vintage World War II airplane crashed at the Reno-Stead Airport on Friday have been identified by their families as Michael Wogan, 22, from Arizona, and Greg Morcom, 47 from Washington.
The two people lives intersected in the most tragic of ways Friday, when the airplane careened into the VIP box seats at the National Championship Air Races in Reno.
Michael Wogan and Greg Morcom were among the nine people killed in the accident.
The 74-year-old pilot of the P-51 Mustang, Jimmy Leeward, died as well.
The Reno air crash aftermaths
Both identified victims were making their first trip to the air races, where souped-up planes blast around an air track marked by pylons.
Since 1972, 19 pilots have died at the NASCAR races in the sky, but Friday was the first time when spectators have been killed.
Greg Morcom’s brother, Ron, who owns an aviation facility, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that his brother died instantly.
Specialists are investigating why Jimmy Leeward’s Galloping Ghost suddenly pitched upward and then nosedived during a high-speed race, digging out a 3-foot-deep crater in the tarmac and sending 69 people to the hospital.
Jimmy Leeward holding a scale model of his P-51 Mustang at his Florida home in 2010
As the death toll rose and suspicion fell on a missing piece from the plane’s tail, survivors grappled with opposing emotions. Many people have been worried about the future of a beloved aviation event, even as they were haunted by images of graphic horror they likened to a battlefield or a terrorist attack.
Eight people remained in critical condition Saturday night, including Michael Wogan’s father, Bill, who lost his right eye and some fingers.
Michael Wogan had congenital muscular dystrophy, as did two of his three brothers. Michael had recently graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in business and finance and started a social media marketing company, according to the Arizona Republic.
A vintage WW II airplane plunged into the grandstands of a popular air race event in Reno, Nevada, on Friday afternoon, in what was described as a “mass casualty situation”.
Until now, three people were confirmed dead and more than 50 injured in the accident at the Reno Air Races. The pilot appeared to lose control and his plane veered into a box area in front of the grandstand at around 4:30 p.m. A medical officer said many of the critically injured were considered to have life-threatening injuries.
Galloping Ghost, the P-51 Mustang fighter plane plunges into the grandstands of Reno Air Race event
According to an eyewitness, the crash was an “absolute carnage”, a horrific scene strewn with body parts and smoking debris.
The Reno Air Races president, Mike Houghton, the 74 year-old pilot, Jimmy Leeward from Ocala, Florida, was among the dead.
Jimmy Leeward was a veteran airman and film stunt pilot who named his P-51 Mustang fighter plane the Galloping Ghost.
Jimmy Leeward was the owner of the Leeward Air Ranch Racing Team and he had flown more than 120 races, according to his website.
The P-51 Mustang, a class of fighter plane that can fly at more than 500 mph, crashed into a box-seat area in front of the grandstand at about 4.30pm, race spokesman Mike Draper said.
Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority said that emergency crews took 56 injury victims to three hospitals and an unconfirmed number of other people were transported to hospital in private vehicles.
Of the 56 victims, 15 were considered in critical condition, and 13 were in serious condition with potentially life-threatening injuries.
“This is a very large incident, probably one of the largest this community has seen in decades,” Stephanie Kruse said.
“The community is pulling together to try to deal with the scope of it.”
Reno Air Race organizers said a mechanical fault was probably to blame for Galloping Ghost crash
According to organizers of the event, a mechanical fault was probably to blame but they were awaiting the results of an official investigation.
Mike Houghton said the crash appeared to be a “problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control”.
The rest of the races were cancelled as the National Transportation Safety Board investigated.
The National Air Championship Air Races draws thousands of people every year in September to watch various military and civilian planes race.