Plane Crashes Into Crowd at Nevada Air Race, Injuring More Than 75

(Fox News) – An airplane crashed Friday into a crowd attending an air race here, injuring dozens in what one event official described as a “mass-casualty situation.”

A medical official later said more than 75 people had been injured, including 25 critically. There was no official word on deaths, though one report put the toll as high as 12 and the crash near the grandstands left a horrific scene of bodies and wreckage.

Mike Draper, a spokesman for the air races, told The Associated Press that Jimmy Leeward was the pilot of the P-51 Mustang that crashed into the box seat area at the front of the grandstand about 4:30 p.m.

 

Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority, said 25 people were critically injured and another 25 people were seriously injured in the crash.

She says the critically injured were considered to have life-threatening injuries. She says more than 25 other people were treated for minor injuries.

Kruse says so far, 40 people have been taken to local hospitals by ambulance and one person has been flown to a hospital.

FoxReno.com cited an unnamed source putting the death toll at two so far, while KOLO-TV put that number as high as 12.

“This is a very large incident, probably one of the largest this community has seen in decades,” Kruse told The Associated Press. “The community is pulling together to try to deal with the scope of it. The hospitals have certainly geared up and staffed up to deal with it.”

KRNV-TV weatherman Jeff Martinez, who was just outside the air race grounds at the time, said the plane veered to the right and then “it just augered straight into the ground.”

“You saw pieces and parts going everywhere,” he said. “Everyone is in disbelief.”

Another witness, Ronald Sargis, said he was sitting in the box seat area near the finish line when the crash occurred.

“We could see the plane coming around the far turn — it was in trouble,” Sargis told KCRA-TV in Sacramento. “About six or seven boxes down from us, it impacted into the front row.”

He said the pilot seemed to do everything he could to avoid crashing into the crowd. Response teams immediately went to work, Sargis said.

“They put out a call for any medically trained or police trained personnel to come and help. Within about two minutes the ambulance crews were loading people up and transporting them away.”

After the crash Sargis went up a few rows into the grandstand to view the downed plane.

“It appeared to be just pulverized,” he said.

Draper identified the pilot of the P-51 Mustang as Jimmy Leeward of Florida.

Leeward is the owner of the Leeward Air Ranch Racing Team and is a well-known racing pilot. His website says he has flown more than 120 races and served as a stunt pilot for numerous movies, including “Amelia” and “Cloud Dancer.”

In an interview with the Ocala Star-Banner in Florida last year, he described how he has flown 250 types of planes and has a particular fondness for the P-51.

“They’re more fun. More speed, more challenge. Speed, speed and more speed,” he said.

The National Championship Air Races draws thousands of people every year in September to watch various military and civilian planes race.

The races have attracted scrutiny in the past over safety concerns, including four pilots killed in 2007 and 2008. It was such a concern that local school officials once considered whether they should not allow student field trips at the event.

The competition is like a car race in the sky, with planes flying wingtip-to-wingtip as low as 50 feet off the sagebrush at speeds sometimes surpassing 500 mph. Pilots follow an oval path around pylons, with distances and speeds depending on the class of aircraft.

Democratic Sen. Harry Reid issued a statement saying he was “deeply saddened” about the crash.
“My thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives and with those who were wounded in this horrific tragedy,” he said. “I am so grateful to our first responders for their swift action and will continue to monitor this situation as it develops.”

An airplane crashed Friday into a crowd attending an air race here, injuring dozens in what one event official described as a “mass-casualty situation.”