Updated: Tragedy At Reno--Leeward Killed, 8 Spectator Fatalities, Races Canceled | Aero-News Network
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Updated: Tragedy At Reno--Leeward Killed, 8 Spectator Fatalities, Races Canceled

Horrific Accident Puts Mustang Down In Occupied Ramp Area

ANN RealTime Update, 09.17.11, 1802ET: I haven't hated my job this much for a little over two years... but Reno officials have confirmed that the total death toll now stands at nine people, including race Pilot Jimmy Leeward. Seven were reported dead at the scene (with Leeward), and two more apparently died after being transported for emergency medical attention. The scene at Reno is quiet, with our people there telling us that things are sad, quiet and orderly, and with access to the facility still being severely limited... and with some GA departures only recently being allowed as the NTSB and other authorities scour the area for every bit of evidence possible.

Reno Air racing organization officials tell ANN that, "The memorial originally scheduled at 1 p.m. PT by the Leeward family has been cancelled and the Reno Air Racing Association is planning a public vigil to be held in the near future. We are working to release details by the end of today. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has taken the lead on all aspects of the accident and has a communications team en route to the Reno-Stead Airfield. The Reno Air Racing Association will work with this team to coordinate additional press updates or a press conference. At this time, we do not have any additional press conferences scheduled."

According to Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center (and its affiliated medical facilities), they received a total of 28 patients transported from the site of the Reno Air Races disaster Friday, Sept. 16. Fourteen of these patients were admitted to Saint Mary’s hospital. Their conditions are as follows:

  • 2 patients are in critical condition
  • 7 patients are in serious condition
  • 5 patients are in fair condition
  • 12 patients were treated and released from Emergency Department Friday
  • A total of 26 patients were either seen in Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department or admitted to the hospital.
  • In addition, two patients were seen at another location, Saint Mary’s Medical Group’s Urgent Care center in south Reno. These patients were also treated and released.


ANN RealTime Update, 09.17.11, 0439ET: A number of photographs are turning that are providing evidence as to some of the issues that Pilot Jimmy Leeward may have faced. One picture, shot from below the aircraft while it was inverted, shows quite clearly that the elevator trim tab has separated from the aircraft. Another shot of the aircraft showing the aircraft in complete profile, from its left, shows that Jimmy is not visible above the level of the canopy and that the retractable tailwheel has deployed. Another picture, circulating on www.aafo.com, appears to show some fuselage deformation on the right side of the aircraft aft of the trailing edge of the wing. That photo is heavily cropped and does not provide much context as to exactly when this photo was taken... but all these elements might suggest the possibility of a 'flutter' event as one of the issues involved in this accident. From what we've researched and documented, a failure of the trim tab (especially at speeds pushing 500MPH) can produce a massive amount of pitch excursion... and the loads on the pilot could be intense...

As an example, in 1998, a racing incident involving Bob Button's P-51 'VooDoo' centered around an elevator trim tab failure. Pilot Bob Hannah experienced a failure of the  left elevator trim tab, which, "came off the airplane at speed, causing the bird to abruptly pitch up, subjecting driver Hannah to over 10 G's of deceleration forces, and causing him to lose conciousness! When he came to, the raceplane had climbed to over 9,000 feet of altitude. A shaken Hannah regained control and brought Voodoo in for a safe landing. Suspected structural damage kept the sleek raceplane out of Sunday's championship competition."

At the moment, the death toll stands at three people, including Leeward, with a dozen people reported to be in critical condition. We hope that you'll all keep each and everyone affected by this accident in your prayers...

ANN RealTime Update, 09.17.11, 0107ET: NTSB Launches Team To Aviation Accident In Reno, Nevada

The National Transportation Safety Board is launching a Go-Team to an aviation accident that occurred yesterday afternoon at the Reno Air Race in Reno, Nevada.

Howard Plagens will serve as the Investigator-in-Charge of the team. NTSB Board Member Mark Rosekind is accompanying the team and will serve as the principal spokesman during the on-scene phase of the investigation.

ANN RealTime Update, 09.16.11, 2248ET: Reno Air Race Boss, Mike Houghton, has confirmed that the remaining Reno Air Race activities have been canceled. Houghton has confirmed 54 injured but has not confirmed any specific number of fatalities.

ANN RealTime Update, 09.16.11, 2151 ET: This is the accident we all prayed would never happen... one involving spectators. National media reports are now confirming at least THREE fatalities. Additionally; the evening news pundits and self-anointed instant experts are already at work, with Sean Hannity calling the Reno Air Races 'a recipe for disaster' and detailing "All Those Accidents" that have happened recently (even though the record shows the most recent tragedies to be statistically atypical, with no common chain linking them in any way).

More important, the cumulative record over the last few years is still fairly impressive, even with recent events tabulated. Unfortunately; the pretty impressive record boasted by the US airshow industry in which all those incidents involved no one on the ground, has now been violated and we expect extensive media and political show-boating to commence immediately in which folks looking to get a cheap sound byte will call for increased regulation and supervision of this and related aviation activities. There is a going to be a media feeding frenzy over this...

New video just posted to YouTube shows Leeward pulling up sharply, rolling right and pitching through the apex of the climb to descend in a near vertical attitude and impacting the ground.

ANN RealTime Update, 09.16.11, 2130 ET: National Championship Air Races Official Statement on Sept. 16, 2011

At approximately 4:20 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16, during Unlimited Class qualifying, the P-51 Mustang “Galloping Ghost,” piloted by Jimmy Leeward, crashed into the box seat area in front of the main grandstand. It is a mass casualty situation and local emergency personnel are on the scene. All emergency protocol established by the Reno Air Racing Association and local emergency responders is being followed. At this time, we do not know the status of the pilot or any of the victims involved.

Though we don’t have official confirmation it does appear that the pilot, a real estate developer out of Ocala, Fla. was killed in the crash. The event has been canceled and the memorial will be held for the pilot at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17 in the Galloping Ghost pit at the Reno-Stead Airfield.

Concerned family members should call 775.972.6663 and Air Race staff is working to locate and establish the status of all involved. A press conference has been scheduled for 7 p.m. PT at the media center at the National Championship Air Races.

We are working to gather more information and will release it as soon as possible.


ANN RealTime Update, 09.16.11, 2041 ET: Local media reports now suggest that there are as many as 75 injuries as a result of the crash of Jimmy Leeward's 'Galloping Ghost' -- at least 25 of those injuries are said to be 'critical.' A YouTube video (low-rez screengrab shown below) has been posted showing the last seconds of Leeward's flight, including all but the last fraction of a second before impact (when someone's head blocks the camera).

The aircraft is seen descending in a near vertical attitude and the accident was not remotely survivable. The impact area is said to be next to an area containing a number of 'Box Seats' and the debris path is obviously widely scattered. Local TV states that the impact was close to, but NOT in the occupied bleachers and seats. ANN is hearing reports from the scene that indicates that there will be fatalities among those on the ground and a call has gone out on the field for all available medical personnel to assist the injured.

First Report, 09.16.11, 1945 ET: ANN is monitoring the truly horrific details of an accident that occurred just moments ago, involving Air Racing legend and movie stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward, 74, and his modified Unlimited P-51 Mustang. According to ANN sources at Reno, the aircraft pulled up and nearly vertical before rolling over and impacting the ramp near a VIP area at approximately 1615 local time. 

The aircraft, known as the Galloping Ghost, is said to have disintegrated on impact (and video sure suggests the same), while media reports are starting to filter out of "mass casualties." ANN will be updating this story throughout the night...

FMI: www.rara.com, www.imdb.com/name/nm0498812/, www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCNePeKn3Tg&feature=youtu.be, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTzX35wOGas, http://youtu.be/-1Y62fzZM1E


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