Vintage plane crashes into crowd at Reno air races
RENO, Nev. — A vintage World War II-era fighter plane crashed into a seating area Friday at a popular annual Reno air race show, killing at least three people, including the pilot, and injuring more than 50. Officials feared the death toll would rise.
Renown Medical Center spokeswoman Kathy Carter said at least two others taken to the hospital had died, but did not provide their identities.
Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority, told The Associated Press that emergency crews took a total of 56 injury victims to three hospitals. She said they also observed a number of people being transported by private vehicle, which they are not including in their count.
Kruse said of the total 56, at the time of transport, 15 were considered in critical condition, 13 were serious condition with potentially life-threatening injuries and 28 were non-serious or non-life threatening.
“This is a very large incident, probably one of the largest this community has seen in decades,” Kruse told The AP. “The community is pulling together to try to deal with the cope of it. The hospitals have certainly geared up and staffed up to deal with it.”
Liz Margerum/The Reno Gazette-Jo
Houghton said it’s too early to know for sure what caused the wreck, but there appeared to be a “problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control.”
The National Transportation Safety Board was taking over the investigation. Houghton said the air races were canceled for the weekend.
Video: Several videos of plane crash emerge (on this page)
It’s not known how many people were watching the air races at the time of crash. Houghton said the grandstands and box seats can hold tens of thousands of spectators.
Witness Maureen Higgins of Alabama said the pilot was on his third lap when he lost control of the plane. She told the Gazette-Journal she was sitting about 30 yards away from the crash and the man in front of her was struck in the head by a piece of debris.
“I saw body parts and gore like you wouldn’t believe it. I’m talking an arm, a leg,” Higgins told the newspaper. “The alive people were missing body parts. I am not kidding you. It was gore. Unbelievable gore.”
Video apparently taken from the stands and posted on YouTube showed a plane crashing nose-down at the show after several other planes raced by in the air. Spectators could be heard gasping: “Oh my God.” A photograph captured the doomed plane, nose down just before impact.
“It was in the Unlimited Gold race on about the second lap when the third-place aircraft, No. 177, the Galloping Ghost flown by Jimmy Leeward experienced mechanical problems,” said Tim O’Brien, a Grass Valley resident on assignment at the races for The Union newspaper. “The plane vaulted violently upward, followed by a dive straight into the front of the reserve grandstands.”
Jeff Martinez, a KRNV weatherman, was just outside the air race grounds at the time. He said he saw the plane veer to the right and then “it just augered straight into the ground.” yo u saw pieces and parts going everywhere,” he said.
“It’s just like a massacre. It’s like a bomb went off,” said Dr. Gerald Lent of Reno, who witnessed the crash, told the Gazette-Journal. “There are people lying all over the runway.”
He added: “One guy was cut in half. There’s blood everywhere. There’s arms and legs.”
Marilyn Newton / AP file
The plane that crashed was named Galloping Ghost and was piloted by Leeward, a real estate developer from Ocala, Fla. Houghton said Leeward had been flying in the Reno air races since 1975.
Leeward flew into Reno for this year’s air show and races with several members of his family and friends, race officials said.
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