Plane Crashes Into Reno Grandstand, Dozens Injured

September 16, 2011

Associated Press

A World War II era fighter plane plunged into the grandstands Friday during a popular annual air show, injuring at least 75 spectators and leaving a horrific scene of bodies and wreckage.

It wasn't immediately known if anyone died in the crash but a spokesman for the event called it a "mass casualty event." Video showed a chaotic scene with several people apparently badly wounded.

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.

More than 25 more people were treated for minor injuries, she said.

Kruse said the critically injured were considered to have life-threatening injuries.

So far, 40 people have been taken to local hospitals by ambulance and one person has been flown to a hospital, she said.

The P-51 Mustang plunged into the crashed into the box seat area at the front of the grandstand at the National Championship Air Races at about 4:30 p.m., said Mike Draper, a spokesman for the event.

Draper identified the pilot as Jimmy Leeward.

Jeff Martinez, a KRNV weatherman, was just outside the air race grounds at the time of the crash. He said he saw the plane veer 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."

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.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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