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Mon, Sep 19, 2011

Updated: Reno Race Accident Investigation Continues

Update: Death Toll Stands At Ten

ANN RealTime Update, 09.19.11, 1204ET: We have been informed that the death toll has risen to ten people and that a number of identifications are now being released. We'll have more info shortly...

Original Report: The truly horrific events of the weekend are still reverberating throughout the aviation industry as knowledgeable aviation people dig in to deal with what happened in a professional manner and the "Insta-Pundits" continue to misinform the public and embarrass the human race.

An NTSB Briefing concluded late Sunday, with additional details, but it's obvious that they have dug in and are giving this matter very serious consideration. In addition to the many reports filed by ANN starting within minutes of the tragedy itself, we now know the following:

  • The NTSB has recovered 'components' which may be part of the P-51's horizontal stab and elevator... possibly even the elevator trim tab, which is a specified point of inquiry (as noted in previous ANN reports).
  • The NTSB has received a significant amount of photographic and video evidence -- some of which show the process whereby the elevator trim tab separated from the horizontal stabilizer.
  • There is no evidence of the much-reported 'Mayday' call.
  • The NTSB has completed the onsite portion of the investigation.


  • Jimmy Leeward's Galloping Ghost had a telemetry system and cameras on board that fed memory cards as well as a transmitter that reported info to his support crew. NTSB learned about this while interviewing the crew. The ground data is in the hands of the NTSB and is being analyzed while memory cards found at the scene are being examined to see if they come from Leeward's "Galloping Ghost" and if they contain useful data. A great deal of physical evidence is being forwarded to NTSB labs in DC and elsewhere.
  • The NTSB did make recommendations in 1972, as regards the issues of aircraft separation from crowds and populated locations. Those recommendations did result in 'acceptable' actions by the Reno Racing officials and that older matter is considered closed.
  • A Preliminary Report is expected to be posted to the NTSB website by the end of this week. The Final Report, of course, will take considerably longer.  

In the meantime, the medical news shows improvement, with no additional deaths reported and a number of people released from t he hospital to complete their recovery at home. Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center tells ANN that eight patients are continuing inpatient treatment at Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center following the September 16th accident.

Their conditions are as follows:

  • 2 patients are in critical condition
  • 6 patients are in serious condition

Six additional patients have been discharged from the hospital since Saturday, including one patient originally listed in serious condition.

Aero-News/Analysis/Opinion: ANN is monitoring a number of news reports and coverage that often shows just how poor the general media understands the world of aviation,... and how unwilling they are to make the requisite research attempts necessary to get their facts straight. We are hearing a number of calls for additional regulation and FAA supervision... despite the fact that this is the first time in nearly 60 years that a spectator at an American aviation event has been killed. A quick perusal of a number of road racing events shows dozens of people/spectators killed as a result of their attendance at such exciting activities (and just in the last few years!)... there are spectator tragedies on record, as well, involving boat races, motorcycle races, BICYCLE races, sled races, ski races, horse races, you name it.

Life just ain't safe to live...

A risk averse society, fed by a number of government and media entities seeking to provide cradle to grave 'safety' for all those too scared to make their own decisions and live their own lives may react in a way that does create new and aggressive restrictions for Air Racing and other aviation activities. The aviation world has a tough job ahead of it... it needs to show people how hard we work to be safe, and that when accidents do happen, that free people have made intelligent decisions to accept a some risk to live a much larger life. You can go through life afraid to die... or you can live a life that celebrates every second you have before God calls you home. Three guesses what most pilots choose?

Still... we can not discount the impact of the fact that ten people lost their lives this weekend due to some relationship/participation with the aviation world... and so we must be respectful, circumspect, professional and careful with every word we say when confronted by those who would seek to take our life choices away from us. A tragedy has occurred... some dear friends and loved ones have died... we can not make light of that, but we can respect the fact that each of them were where they were by choice and were living exciting moments in their lives. And yet, for ten people, 'that call' had to be made to countess loved ones, friends and family to explain the ultimate tragedy of life... that none of us are getting through this game of life without it ending at some point. I've gotten 'that call' myself and I will never forget the first few minutes of realization that something awful happened to someone I loved... but I was cognizant right from the start that she was where she was because she loved every second of the life she led and was chasing her dreams every second of her life. We must mourn our losses... and we must celebrate the lives we choose to lead, despite the rare and unforgiving consequences that happen no matter how safe we try to be. And yes, we need to respect what happened... and look to the future. For the moment, that means being ready to defend our way of life and to make sure that the aviation world, in all its many facets, stays freely available to those of us who want to enjoy every amazing second of it. And -- that means that we need to look closely at what we do, examine our procedures, choices, and actions, and set forth to make RENO 2012 a certainty -- changing what needs to be changed (IF changes really do need to be made), and celebrating every high-speed second of it -- as so many of those who were there this week (and even those that will never return) would like us to do.

Further; there will be stories to be told in weeks to come... stories not of tragedy, but of heroism and professionalism and selflessness. Be sure to contact us with all those that you hear and let us know who to talk to... as these are stories that will truly need to be heard and told the world over. Aviation may have its hazards and its tragedies... but it also has its heroes and many moments of incredible excitement and amazing joy.

So... let's make an agreement here and now... let's look at what we can do to make these events safer, because that is the right and proper things to do... and let's all plan to meet in Reno a year from now and be prepared to go full throttle, turn left and go fast. 

Thankfully, the aviation world, in the case of the Air Racing and Airshow stories that transpired this weekend are presented by some exceptional people and organizations. At Reno, we saw the Air Race officials work professionally, quickly and respectfully to deal with an awful happenstance... we saw CFR personnel rush to the scene of the crash and work rapidly and impressively to deal with the horror laid out before them... we saw the aviation-oriented spectators work to help those in need, fail to panic and act in a calm and non-reactionary way. I was proud to know that these people were part of my aviation family. I am particularly proud of the work done by RARA's Mike Houghton (and his amazing organization) and thoughtful way the NTSB dealt with all those looking for ridiculous easy answers to a complex tragedy. Just as impressive, we saw and were made aware of the work of the International Council of AirShows, who has never been run and staffed so professionally as it is right now -- and for that the entire aviation world should bow down and give great thanks... If this matter was left in the hands of the average 'Alphabet Association' we would have been throughly screwed.

Still... I strongly believe that we have tough times ahead of us and that there is no time like the present to start preparing to do whatever it takes to preserve a way of life, our community, and our right to make our own choices. Aviation's future remains precarious, and this weekend's tragedies will be used to endanger it further. It is up to each and every one of us to make sure that we are in charge of our own destiny and that we stay intimately involved in guaranteeing a future for our community, both for ourselves as well as future generations... -- Jim Campbell, ANN CEO/Editor-In-Chief

FMI: www.ntsb.gov, www.airrace.org, www.airshows.aero, www.aafo.com


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