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The P-51 Mustang airplane approaches the ground moments before crashing during an air show in Reno.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Garret Woodson / Associated Press

People rush to help injured spectators following the crash of a vintage World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane at the Reno air races. Eight spectators and the pilot died.


Cynthia Stanton, of Fernley, Nev., looks away as a needle is inserted into her arm by phlebotomist D. J. Devine at United Blood Services in Reno. More than 200 people came to give blood for crash victims.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Mary Bartlett, 79, reads about the crash of a World War II-era fighter plane at the Reno air races. Bartlett, who has attended the race for more than 40 years, was sitting in a campground outside the race when the crash occurred.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Reno deputy police chief David Evans speaks at a news conference in Reno on Saturday about first responders to Friday's plane crash.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

Andy Delk pushes a race plane onto the tarmac after the cancellation of the Reno Air Races in Reno, Nev. September 17, 2011.


The American flag and the POW flag fly at half-staff at the Reno Air Races Saturday. The event was canceled after a fatal plane crash on Friday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

Crew members move Pitts stunt planes after the Reno Air Races were canceled after a plane crash on Friday killed several people and injured dozens of others at the event.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

The P-51 Mustang flown by Jimmy Leeward is shown just before it crashed. Leeward was a veteran stunt pilot.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ward Howes / Associated Press

A P-51 Mustang airplane is shown right before crashing at the Reno Air show.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Tim O'Brien / Grass Valley Union

In the first of a sequence of photos, the P-51 Mustang crashes at the edge of the spectator area.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ward Howes / Associated Press

Debris flies toward the main group of fans watching the race. The crash created a horrific scene strewn with smoking debris.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ward Howes / Associated Press

Large chunks of the plane and other debris fall to the ground.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ward Howes / Associated Press

Some spectators duck, others run as debris from the Mustang passes over their heads.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ward Howes / Associated Press

Medics help injured bystanders out of a helicopter into Renown Medical Center after a plane crashed into the crowd Friday at the Reno National Championship Air Races. A World War II-era fighter plane plunged into the grandstands during a popular annual air show, injuring at least 75 spectators and leaving a horrific scene of bodies and wreckage.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Liz Margerum / Reno Gazette-Journal

Medics help injured bystanders out of a helicopter into Renown Medical Center after a plane crashed into the crowd at the Reno National Championship Air Races.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Liz Margerum / Reno Gazette-Journal

A crowd gathers around debris after the crash.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Tim O'Brien / Grass Valley Union

Debris from the plane that crashed at the Reno Air Races is scattered in front of the grandstand at Stead Airport.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Andy Barron / Reno Gazette-Journal

Reno Mayor Bob Cashell listens to a press conference following the crash of a vintage World War II-era fighter plane into the grandstands during the annual air show.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cathleen Allison / Associated Press

Mike Houghton, president of the Reno Air Racing Association, left, holds a news conference after a vintage World War II-era fighter plane plunged into the grandstands during a popular annual air show.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kevin Clifford / Associated Press

Bystanders embrace after a Second World War fighter plane crashed into the stands at the Reno Air Races.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Cathleen Allison / Associated Press

Pilot Jimmy Leeward prepares to take off in his P-51 Mustang prior to flying the race in which he crashed at the Reno air races Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ward Howes / Associated Press

A Sept. 15, 2010, photo, shows longtime Reno Air Race pilot Jimmy Leeward with his P-51 Mustang. Leeward was said to be the pilot in the crash.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Marilyn Newton / Reno Gazette-Journal

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Reno air show crash kills nine people

At least nine people were confirmed killed and more than 50 injured Friday afternoon when a plane crashed into the stands at an air race in Reno. Because of the number and severity of injuries, the death toll was expected to rise.

Mike Houghton, president of the National Championship Air Races in Reno, said the National Transportation Safety Board had taken over the investigation and would determine a cause but that the pilot, 74-year-old Jimmy Leeward, was “an experienced, talented and qualified pilot.”

The crash at the Reno air races was the first to take the lives of spectators, but it wasn’t the first to kill a pilot.  At least 19 other pilots have died in crashes at the Reno air races since 1972, including three deaths in 2007.

FULL COVERAGE: Deadly crash at Reno air show


  1. September 17, 2011, 1:03 am

    If this is a photo of the plane immediately before the impact, where is the pilots head? And why is the tail gear extended but the main gear are not? Another photo is this series show the same situation. Possible incapacitation of the pilot? Doesn't explain the gear problem though.

  2. September 17, 2011, 1:56 am

    The look says it all.
    A sad day for aviation.

    By: Ralph T
  3. September 17, 2011, 4:14 am

    Wow, what to say here…unfortunate for all involved and the organizers etc. Breathtakingly shocking and very sad for the by-standers. I've saw now a few air show mishaps that are watch at your own risk events and to all that are affected by them I'm deeply saddened. This comes with the nature of this sport so with that I'd like to say that I am envious of everyone's courage to partake, share the grief and live to express the sudden but fearless loss of true champion flyers and spectators.
    It's our own choice to do what we please and events will always offer danger no matter what the sport, this comes as no surprise and should always be expected.
    Change, if any could be that any performance must be done minimum 1 mile from spectators. Whether this is already a fact I do not know and am no organizer or partaker of any sort so excuse my ignorance on this matter however a minimum space may grumble viewers however the safety must be a concern.

    From the wilds of Northern Ontario Canada…

    By: Rog
  4. September 17, 2011, 8:02 am

    According to spectator reports, the pilot had just pulled up very sharply, putting the airplane into an almost vertical climb. This produces a very high G force which likely caused the pilot to black out and lose control of the airplane. That would explain why the pilot cannot be seen in the cockpit in the photos of the airplane immediately before the impact with the ground.

    By: eeem
  5. September 17, 2011, 9:26 am

    The pilot would still be visible in the cockpit regardless of his condition. They photoshopped his head out of the picture. The P-51 uses a "five point harness" seat belt system. It keeps the body upright and secured into the cockpit. You would still see his shoulders and head. Obviously his face is also visible in the original photo and someone made the decision to alter it.

  6. September 17, 2011, 10:02 am

    The tail wheel on the P-51 does retract hydraulically. You can see in the photos the gear doors are open. Here is a phot of the bottom of this plane:… Also, the cockpit of this plane has been extensively modified and the canopy is smaller than the original so the pilot should be visible in this view. One possibility is a seat failure. The seat in the P-51 is ajustable up and down as well as forward and back. Video appears to show the plane under full power from pull up to impact, this could indicate the pilot experienced G-induced loss of consciousness (GLOC).

  7. September 17, 2011, 10:34 am

    Also witnesses are saying the plane missed the stands and the people. It was the shrapnel created by the impact that killed and injured everyone.

  8. September 17, 2011, 11:06 am


  9. September 17, 2011, 12:14 pm

    Other photos not shown here show broken elevator trim tab as cause of vertical climb at over 10 Gs which blacked him out as well as pulled out the tail wheel. Similar failure occurred to another pilot in P51 named Voodoo in 1998, which caused pilot to lose consciousness, except his plane kept climbing to 9,000 feet when he woke up and was able to recover. This pilot not so fortunate in that he won his fight with the trim tab but that nosed the plane down. He cannot be seen so is probably unconscious due to G loads.

  10. September 17, 2011, 3:07 pm

    The pilots that fly these aircraft live on the edge while doing what they love. We are always deeply saddened when in a split second something goes horribly wrong. We are reminded of the both the limits to man and the unlimited potential in mans nature on these sad occasions. God bless all those so tragically affected, may the families find strength and peace.

  11. September 17, 2011, 4:03 pm

    If the photo of the plane pointed down just before impact is real I will be very surprised. If you look at other photos of this plane in flight (on the pilots web site, for example) in EVERY photo you can see the pilot's helmet. Even if he had a heart attack and died he would be leaning up against the glass. There is nowhere for him to be. Plus to get this angle the photographer would have to have been far away from the stands with a very powerful telephoto lens. It is perfectly from the side with no blur whatsoever. He probably could not have gotten the other photo of the plane upside down from the same location. I also searched for "Times Valley Union" and did not find any news organization with Tim O'Brien as a photographer.

    By: Doubting Tom
  12. September 17, 2011, 7:39 pm

    The plane in the “crashing” photo has been photo-shopped. The original image was taken sitting on the runway, cut out and overlayed on some generic cloud. Simply save the image, rotate 90 degrees so that it is horizontal. Save the image of the plane on the runway, with the pilot in it, invert 180 degrees so both images are oriented the same way. Scale the crashing image to 850 x 644.The orientation of the two planes in the two images match almost exactly, the differences so minor that they are easily attributed to camera position.

    The pilot in the “crashing” image is not visible because he is not there. The plane is sitting at rest. That is also why the propeller

    looks so crisp. It is not moving. The author could not be bothered to remove the rear wheel.

    By: theo
  13. September 17, 2011, 7:55 pm

    Some people just don’t know what they’re talking about and should remain quite.

    The aircraft suffered a separation of the elevator trim tab. This resulted in the A/C pitching up violently and inducing substantial “G” force sufficient to pull the tail wheel out of the retracted position. This amount of “G” force either caused the now blacked out pilots seat mounts to collapse or more likely, threw him forward and down against the panel and stick as the A/C rotated up. He never knew what hit him.

    By: Bob
  14. September 17, 2011, 8:40 pm

    The one thing that really caught my attention was the lack of any up elevator, no visible pilot which, imho, equates to either a complete lose of the elevator control linkage or an unconscious pilot.

    By: camaropilot
  15. September 17, 2011, 9:05 pm

    Tail wheel is retractable on P51A-D, and most certainly on this modified bird, which was far from the original airframe. It is a taildragger, but that photo is not an actual shot of the plane crashing. It’s a photoshop of the plane at rest that has been rotated. This plane was moving >500mph before impact. A digital still video camera with sufficiently fast shutter speed to prevent the blur (say, 1/2,000 sec) would require either a particularly lucky shot. The HD video capture mode on the fanciest SLRs (so 30fps or therabouts), has nowhere near 1/2,000 sec shutter speeds.

    By: Pappy Boyington
  16. September 17, 2011, 10:23 pm

    Photo 1 of 23 shows the aircraft in such a way that no photo shopping could be construed. The tailwheel has extended, probably because the g-forces overcame the uplock. The pilot is not visible, probably because he was unconscious. The propeller is nearly stopped because of the shutter speed. The elevators appear to be in the neutral position, indicating that the pilot was not pulling back on the control column. The aircraft was completely out of control at that point.

    For some reason many people assume the pilot is acting heroically “steering” the aircraft from various objects on the ground. Not in this case, not in many cases.

    I was at the Races last year, saw the pilot, saw the aircraft, met only wonderful people at the event which I attended for the full five days. My thoughts are with them all this year.

    Machines fail, people make mistakes, but neither should be a surprise, especially at this event. Nothing is 100% safe, and to expect that in this, the most dangerous type of racing on the planet, is foolish. We revere those who push these limits, and that’s why I hope the Reno Air Races continue. If they do, I’ll be back.

    By: Stuart
  17. September 17, 2011, 11:11 pm

    It's funny that with something so trivial as a rear wheel this subculture can't even be polite with each other in the face of a tragedy. Reminds me of Rage Against the Machine "Evil Empire" Album cover.

    By: Guest
  18. September 18, 2011, 8:03 am

    A clarification. I compared photos 3 and 8(la-ne-renocrashfr8.jpg) Photo 3 showing the plane on the ground. Photo 8 showing the plane pointing straight down to the LEFT. All other photos have the plane moving to the right. The photographer of 8 would have to have been at the far side if the field.

    By: theo
  19. September 18, 2011, 12:29 pm

    This hideously engineered beast had death written all over it.

    By: regis49
  20. September 18, 2011, 1:42 pm

    The tail wheel does retract. I think he had a severe elevator flutter. That may have unlocked the tail wheel allowing it to extend. I also think the bolts that hold the elevator halfs together may have failed. That would explain why he rolled at the top of his pitch up.

    By: Bob Poortman
  21. September 18, 2011, 4:12 pm

    Doubting Tom is questioning the picture's authenticity is completely without merit in this case. Although it's good to question what we see on the internet these days, I can assure you it is authentic. First of all, I know the photographer, he sent those pictures immediately from on-site. He has a very expensive Nikon digital SLR that is capable of such images. I have seen his work during other crashes that show extreme clarity at the moment of impact from other accidents, in one case at Reno (a year or two ago) he photographed a crash landing. (pilot survived) We were able to identify the pilot's sunglasses in mid air after the airplane had disintegrated around him. Tim & his brothers work the airshow every year and have done so since the 1970s. He also provides extremely sharp images to the pilots and crews of these aircraft during the races. Tim is of the utmost character and it would never come to his mind to do such a thing. Did you notice his other high-quality photos of the accident site? They are of the same sharpness. You accuse the picture of being photo-shopped, did you notice the pitch of the propeller?? A plane parked on the ramp will have the propeller at near zero pitch, this propeller is biting the air with substantial pitch showing that it's at a high power setting, you'll also notice it is slightly blurred by it's rotation, a stationary aircraft photo would have the prop at zero pitch and in sharp focus. On another note regarding accident itself… and I say this as a life long pilot of high performance aircraft, including planes of this vintage. The trim tab is an *extremely* important part of the flight controls. In a "fixed tail-plane" aircraft like this one the native (un-trimmed) position of the horizontal stabilizer would be set to have the aircraft in stable level flight at a much much lower speed (maybe 150mph + or – some) than the 400+ at which they were racing. This means that the trim tab would be at a substantial nose-down setting. Sudden loss of the trim tab would result in a violent pitch-up and G-forces far in excess of human tolerance. Doing the math on coefficient of lift vs. speed will give you some scary numbers. That pilot blacked out instantly. Even if he did not black out, he wouldn't have been able to lift his arm to make any adjustments, he would have been completely immobilized. I've pulled 6 or 7 Gs (deliberately of course) and know how paralyzing it is. At the forces I'm guessing he experienced, he didn't have a chance. That plane continued in a high-G, full-power, maneuver until it hit the ground. Also, why would he put a fake picture in the set when he had a perfect picture of the plane inverted with a missing trim tab? The tail wheel is extended because it suddenly weighed something like 10-times it's normal weight. It does not have positive uplocks like the gear does.
    Also, As for not finding a "Tim O'Brien at the Times Union"… go back and read the byline again. It clearly says; "Tim O'Brien, Grass Valley Union". I assure you, both are real, I delivered that paper for five years.

    By: denbuss
  22. September 18, 2011, 4:16 pm

    The owner and pilot was not educated enough to know whether his modifications would eventually, or in sum, create a systems level failure. The machine was ancient. I'll bet there weren't any aero engineers helping, no xrays, no calculations, no safety factor, nothing. Just mechanics fooling around. Nor would the owner and pilot have the reaction time or g-force resistance that could have helped. Airplanes are flying bombs – we learned that 9/11. Children in the bodies of 74 year olds should not be allowed to monkey with, and then play with, flying bombs over a crowd. Tragic. Yes, they should ban air racing or at least make it take place a mile from spectators, over water or something.

  23. September 18, 2011, 4:51 pm

    Theo and Doubting T… if you watch the video in the following link you'll see that Tim O'Brien is quite *real*.

    By: denbuss
  24. September 18, 2011, 5:31 pm

    Have enlarged photo 8 and can see no indication of adjustment to this picture and canopy has not been censored. All shadows indicate that this plane is vertical. It is not positive but the reflection in the nosecone does seem to reflect what could be the image of the stands. Hope this throws more ideas into what happened to the pilot.

    By: David Fellows
  25. September 18, 2011, 5:44 pm

    Theo and Doubting T… if you watch the video in YouTube you'll be quite certain that Tim O'Brien is indeed *real*. They won't let us post a link in here, but if you search YouTube with the following text you'll see it.
    Tim O'Brien re: Crash of Galloping Ghost Jimmy Leeward

    By: denbuss
  26. September 18, 2011, 6:37 pm

    As to the "missing pilot" under the canopy… if you look at the picture above of Galloping Ghost showing it on the runway with the pilot, you'll notice he is sitting very low in the cockpit. They are designed that way to prevent the pilot's head from hitting it in negative-G maneuvers. When looking at that it's easy to see that he would be pushed down out of sight if he suddenly would weigh something like ten times his normal weight.

    By: denbuss
  27. September 19, 2011, 11:04 am

    I can't believe the system is censoring the word "cockpit." That's pretty cockeyed, wouldn't you say?

    By: jimddddd
  28. September 19, 2011, 12:08 pm

    In picture 13 there is something orange and white up in the upper right hand corner. Is that the pilot's parachute? It's on the ground in picture 14. And in #11, there are a couple of guys on a wooden structure out on the course, judges perhaps? Were they ok?

  29. September 19, 2011, 12:54 pm

    It's a racer, the tail wheel would have to retract! If the tail wheel is fixed, why does it appear to have doors extended too? I can visualize fixed tail wheels such as the ones on the Spitfire or the Bf109. This does not appear to be configured as such.

    By: sss
  30. September 19, 2011, 4:38 pm

    It's a big middle finger to the rest of us is what it is. It's the elite saying, "we can do what we want. " We'll stage a crash and include a photo of plane with no pilot. That's exactly what it is. Once you look at all the information, you'll see what I mean. Don't discount what I'm saying because you think it's ridiculous.

    By: aanaa
  31. September 19, 2011, 4:44 pm

    Can somebody please explain to me if Mr. Obrien is taking credit for all the dive photos, if so how can he possibly get photos of both sides of an airplane in a steep 500 mph dive…..just curious

  32. September 20, 2011, 3:53 pm

    Is it possible that the pilot’s seat snapped and fell back into the rear of the cockpit, causing the pilot to pull back on the controls which caused the plain to loop up and then straight down like it did? This might also explain why we can’t see the pilot’s head in the photos

    By: John Smith
  33. September 20, 2011, 7:56 pm

    Any pilot of this caliber knows to pull up hard if he experiences flutter. The pull-up loads the control surfaces and can stop flutter before the surface fails. Sometimes it works and sometimes the pull-up isn't quick enough before failure. I suspect he did everything right, hard pull-up, and when the roll started he decided to bail out, harness had been released and he was leaning low in the c0ckpit attempting to eject—-not enough time.

  34. September 21, 2011, 5:33 pm

    […] Reno air show crash kills nine people – Framework – Photos and Video – Visual Storytelling from the … Baswell ,read some the comments If the photo of the plane pointed down just before impact is real I will be very surprised. If you look at other photos of this plane in flight (on the pilots web site, for example) in EVERY photo you can see the pilot's helmet. Even if he had a heart attack and died he would be leaning up against the glass. There is nowhere for him to be. Plus to get this angle the photographer would have to have been far away from the stands with a very powerful telephoto lens. It is perfectly from the side with no blur whatsoever. He probably could not have gotten the other photo of the plane upside down from the same location. I also searched for "Times Valley Union" and did not find any news organization with Tim O'Brien as a photographer. […]

  35. April 14, 2012, 2:33 pm

    he was To OLD but 99.99% of you can't face your EGO


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