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Tuesday 19 November 2019

Air disaster: 3 dead, 54 injured in US vintage aircraft crash

NIGHTMARE: Pilot Jimmy Leeward and two spectators
were killed when his World War Two plane crashed into
air show crowds and exploded
NIGHTMARE: Pilot Jimmy Leeward and two spectators were killed when his World War Two plane crashed into air show crowds and exploded

A vintage Second World War fighter plane crashed near the grandstand at a Nevada air race, killing three people including the elderly pilot, and injuring 54 others, many critically, say medical officials.

The plane, a P-51 Mustang, dubbed the "Galloping Ghost" that was being flown by Jimmy Leeward, 74, crashed at 4.30pm local time (11.30pm GMT) into a box seat area in front of the main grandstand at the Reno Air Races,.

"I heard his engine and looked up. He was within 100 feet. He was coming right down on top of us," witness Fred Scholz told CNN, adding that the plane had first flown closer to the stands than allowed. "It just happened very quick."

The Federal Aviation Administration halted the air race after the crash, and was investigating the incident alongside the National Transportation Safety Board, an FAA official said.

Video apparently taken from the stands and posted on YouTube showed a plane plunging nose-down into the tarmac as spectators were heard gasping: "Oh, my God."

Debris billowed near the crash site, and officials then told spectators to remain where they were so emergency workers could get to the scene.

The FAA official, spokesman Ian Gregor, said that multiple spectator fatalities and critical injuries were reported. FAA inspectors had been observing the race at the time of the crash, he said.

The head of the Reno Air Racing Association, Michael Houghton, put the number of injured at 54 people and said the 74-year-old pilot was among those killed. He said that there appeared to be a "problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control".

At least 15 people were in a critical condition after the crash, which a spokesman for the event called a "mass casualty situation" in a written statement.

Mark Hasara of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is a veteran of the Air Force who attended the race and witnessed the crash. "As soon as I saw his nose pointed at the ground, I knew he wasn't going to recover," Mr Hasara told Reuters.

The Reno Air Races, which began in the mid-1960s and is an event that is held annually, feature planes facing off in multi-lap races at an airfield north of Reno.

Renown Regional Medical Center spokesman Dan Davis said that at least two people were killed, a man and a woman, but they were not identified.

Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the regional emergency medical service authority, said 15 of the injured were in a critical condition.

"This is a very large incident, probably one of the largest this community has seen in decades," Ms 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."

Mr Houghton said that Mr Leeward, from Ocala, Florida, was a real estate developer who had been racing planes since the mid-1970s.

He added that most of Leeward's family had been at Friday's event.

Ronald Sargis, a witness who was sitting in the box-seat area, said spectators could tell the plane was in trouble before it crashed.

"About six or seven boxes down from us, it impacted into the front row," Mr Sargis told KCRA-TV in Sacramento. He added: "It appeared to be just pulverised."

Another eyewitness, Maureen Higgins of Alabama, told the Associated Press that the pilot was on his third lap when he lost control.

"I saw body parts and gore like you wouldn't believe it. I'm talking an arm, a leg," Ms Higgins said.

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