Melania Trump Club

Saturday, September 17, 2011

World War II-era fighter plane plunged into the grandstands on Friday

A vintage World War II-era fighter plane plunged into the grandstands on Friday during a popular annual air show, killing at least nine people, injuring more than 50 spectators and creating a horrific scene strewn with body parts and smoking debris. The plane, flown by an 80-year-old pilot, spiraled suddenly out of control and appeared to disintegrate upon impact. Bloodied bodies were spread across the area as people tended to the victims and ambulances rushed to the scene. Maureen Higgins of Alabama, who has been coming to the show for 16 years, said the pilot was on his third lap when he lost control. She was sitting about 30 yards away from the crash and watched in horror as the man in front of her started bleeding after a piece of debris hit him in the head. "I saw body parts and gore like you wouldn't believe it. I'm talking an arm, a leg," Higgins said "The alive people were missing body parts. I am not kidding you. It was gore. Unbelievable gore." Among the dead was pilot Jimmy Leeward, 80, of Ocala, Florida, who flew the P-51 Mustang named the "Galloping Ghost," according to Mike Houghton, president and CEO of Reno Air Races. Renown Medical Center spokeswoman Kathy Carter confirmed that two others died, but did not provide their identities. Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority, told The Associated Press that emergency crews took a total of 56 injury victims to three hospitals. She said they also observed a number of people being transported by private vehicle, which they are not including in their count. Kruse said of the total 56, at the time of transport, 15 were considered in critical condition, 13 were serious condition with potentially life-threatening injuries and 28 were non-serious or non-life threatening. "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." The P-51 Mustang crashed into a box-seat area in front of the grandstand at about 4.30pm, race spokesman Mike Draper said. Houghton said Leeward appeared to have "lost control of the aircraft," though details on why that happened weren't immediately known. Crash experts confirmed that they were looking at reports that a key part of the World War II's tailfin had fallen off before the accident, saying they had found a component on the ground. Eight of the 54 injured in the crash remained in critical condition, according to updated figures released by the two main local hospitals where casualties were taken. Two people had already been confirmed dead in hospital overnight, said Reno Police Department deputy chief Dave Evans, adding: "We also have a total of seven fatalities that we know of... on the tarmac to include the pilot." The vintage P-51 Mustang was flying in the National Championship Air Races Friday when its elderly pilot, a race veteran, apparently lost control of the aircraft and it plunged at full speed into spectators. Amateur video captured the moment the plane, a single-seat fighter aircraft from the 1940s called the "Galloping Ghost," barrel-rolled wildly through the sky and smashed at a near-vertical angle into a roped-off area for spectators, narrowly missing a grandstand packed with many more people. An official from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it was "very unlikely" that the aircraft had a black box, but said investigators were aware of reports that a piece of the plane may have come off before the crash. "We are aware of that. In fact, a component has been recovered in the area where that was observed. But I think it is critical at this point to know that we have not identified the component," said the official, Mark Rosekind. The aircraft was flown by Florida businessman and pilot Jimmy Leeward, reported to be 74 years old. He had raced at the event since 1975, and had served as a stunt pilot for several Hollywood films. Witnesses said the aircraft crashed into an area of box seats, while some said the pilot prevented even greater casualties by swerving to avoid hitting the grandstand itself. "It pretty well wiped out the front of the box area," said Mike Houghton, the head of the Reno Air Racing Association. Video of the accident, shot from the grandstand, showed people gasping in horror as the plane came down. RARA spokesman Mike Draper said the plane was a lap or two into the race when Leeward called in a mayday. "We don't know why it crashed. The pilot did call in. He did pull out of the lap, which is what they do. They usually pull up, directly up to clear the race track," he added. Eyewitness Ben Cissell praised the flying ace. "I think that that pilot in the last two seconds pulled up because he saw the bleachers and I would guess he probably saved 200 to 300 other people," he told CNN. "I was about 100 feet (30 meters) from the crash site and I would think that the plane hit right at about the middle of those boxes," he said of the roped off area. Houghton dismissed suggestions that the health of the pilot could have had a role in the crash. "All of his medical records and everything were up to date, spot on and Jimmy was a very experienced and talented, qualified pilot," he said. Leeward's family voiced its shock on his Facebook page, saying: "We are deeply saddened by the tragedy at the air race today. Please join us in praying at this time for all the families affected."

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