Death toll from Nevada air crash rises to nine

RENO, Nev. (Reuters) – The death toll in the crash of a vintage World War Two fighter plane near the grandstand at a Nevada air race has risen to nine, authorities said yesterday.

In addition to two people who died of their injuries at hospitals, seven died on the tarmac following the crash on Friday night, Reno Deputy Police Chief Dave Evans said. More than 50 people were injured. Officials said previously the crash killed at least three people.

The pilot, Jimmy Leeward, 74, was among those killed when his P-51 Mustang dubbed the “Galloping Ghost” crashed into a box seat area in front of the main grandstand, said Mike Draper, spokesman for the 48th Annual National Championship Air Races, also known as the Reno Air Races.

“It was like a war zone where the box seats were,” Draper said.

In Martinsburg, West Virginia, another World War Two-era plane crashed in a fireball at an air show yesterday. There was no official word on casualties.

After the Reno crash, a spokesman for Renown Regional Medical Center said the hospital received 30 patients from the crash and five others were taken to the affiliated Renown South Meadows Medical Center.

Of those 35, six were listed in critical condition yesterday, two were in serious condition and five in fair condition. One person was listed in good condition, and others had been discharged.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were on the scene of the crash at an airfield north of Reno.

Proximity to the planes is a draw for the race, which advises on its website, “Always remember to fly low, fly fast and turn left.”

Draper said the planes sometimes fly at high speeds “about 50 feet (15 metres) off the ground and it’s an exciting, exciting sight.”

The thrill has been a deadly one on occasion, with a total of 28 people killed in the history of the race flown every year in Reno since 1964, Draper said.

“The Reno Air Racing Association extends its most sincere heartfelt condolences and sympathies to all of those affected by yesterday’s tragic events,” the association said in a statement.
Leeward was the son of a pilot and his own sons have also flown planes. He worked as a stunt pilot on some movies, including the 2002 release “Dragonfly.”

The Reno crash was the latest in a spate of fatal air show accidents since August.

Last month, the pilot of an aerobatic airplane died in a fiery crash in front of shocked onlookers at a weekend air show in Kansas City, Missouri. In Michigan last month, a wingwalker at an air show near Detroit plunged about 200 feet (60 metres) to his death as he tried to climb onto a helicopter in midair.

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