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Sad Tidings For Air Crash In Reno, Death Toll At 10

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It was a dark day for those who attended the airshow in Reno, Nevada last Friday, September 18.

According to the Huffington Post, the “World War II-era plane that plummeted into an air-race crowd like a missile bore little resemblance to its original self.” The old aircraft had undergone changes that included the removal of 10 feet of wingspan, and almost 30 inches were cut off the ailerons, the back edges of the main wings used to help maintain the plane’s balance. Jimmy Leeward, a pilot, had stated before the show that the changes made to the 65-year-old plane so that it would fly faster. The intent for the plane was for speed and agility rather than stability. However, even Jimmy wasn’t certain how the plane would perform with the modifications. Despite having the systems not proven or tested yet, they decided to fly the plane for the show. The pilot thought the systems were “going to be OK.”

Sadly, OK was not enough as the plane plummeted from the sky and crashed into a terrified crowd. Jimmy Leeward, a real estate developer from Florida, was the pilot who flew the P-51 Mustang the day it crashed.

He was flying in a competition for qualification at the Reno National Championship Air Races. The Reno Air Race Association has been around since its founding year, 1964, and the air race spectator deaths that resulted last Friday were the first in four decades its happened. According to My Fox Phoenix News, “Eyewitnesses said the doomed pilot made an apparent last-ditch swerve to save dozens of spectators before his aircraft — nicknamed the “Galloping Ghost” — slammed to the ground.” One spectator stated on facebook that the pilot saved his life by pulling up enough to miss them by 50ft. A memorial service was held for Leeward last Saturday afternoon.

The death toll has so far risen to 10 since the crash, including Leeward’s death. It was announced that the latest death was from Saint Mary’s Regional Medical center after their patient died from their injuries. Four still remain in critical condition.

Seven people, including Leeward, died that Friday on the Tarmac. Their names were released by the Washoe County Medical Examiner. The following names were released to the Reno Gaxette: Gerge Hewitt (60), Sharon Stewart (47), Regina Bynum (53), Gregory Morcom (47), Michael Wogan (22), John Craik (46), and Jimmy Leeward (74). Two others, including Hewitt’s wife – 57-year-old Wendy Hewitt – died that later same evening.

Almost 70 spectators were injured from the plane crash. St. Mary’s Hospital has stated that the “Common injuries included fractures of the legs, arms, ribs and fingers, head injuries, amputations, abrasions, lacerations, and chemical burns.” Four victims are in the hospital that are still in critical condition and five more are in serious condition.

Investigations are already underway to discover the reason behind the crash. According to CNN, “National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said investigators are looking at whether the plane’s apparently damaged elevator trim tab — whose breaking apart was captured in a photograph — played a role in the nosedive crash. Authorities do not know why the aircraft went down.” They have so far recovered a damaged elevator trim, a rear part of the plane that helps stabilize it during flight. Photos that have been gathered from spectators show that the plane may have been missing it during its fatal flight.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who attended the show with his grandchildren, offered on the Senate Floor his condolences towards those who were injured or have died during the crash. He stated “I hope this terrible event — the first of its kind in this nation — will not deter people from attending air shows in the future.”

Photos courtesy of Dylan Ashe and jeggernot via Flickr.com and The United States Senate via Wikicommons.

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