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Spectators describe scenes of horror at Reno air crash

September 16, 2011 |  6:55 pm


Witnesses at the Reno Air Races described a scene of terrible carnage caused by a plane crash into the stands Friday afternoon. Multiple fatalities were reported.

Ken Wiegand, a civilian pilot from Reno who was attending the air races, was sitting in the stands at the other end of the airfield and witnessed the crash.

PHOTOS: Reno air show tragedy

"Being a pilot, you could see trouble as soon as he hit the apex of his pullout," said Wiegand, 73, in a telephone interview. "You could tell he was in trouble and was probably going to crash. It took about five seconds for all of this to happen."

He described chaos and panic at the scene, with people screaming and some rushing to aid the injured.

"A lot of traumatized people out here," he said.

FULL COVERAGE: Deadly crash at Reno air show

Dr. Gerald Lent of Reno told the Reno Gazette-Journal: "One guy was cut in half. There’s blood everywhere.... There’s arms and legs. One guy just said, ‘Hey, there’s another foot over here.’”
According to the paper, Lent said the P-51 pulled vertically up, rolled, but then “went right into the audience.”
“The guy lost control, shot straight up into the air and came down into the people. It hit full force, full throttle,” Juan Echeverria, 37, of Sparks said of the plane, which is from the World War II era. He too was quoted in the Gazette-Journal.

Art Hernandez of Santa Clarita traveled to Reno for the races with a group of eight co-workers. The group was sitting in the hospitality tents only minutes before the plane barreled into them. “We were sitting right there,” he told The Times.

"We were still were close enough that one of the propeller blades bounced about 5 feet past us,” Hernandez said. “Way too close for comfort.”

“The plane climbed straight up, stalled, then plummeted in a complete nose dive,” Hernandez said.

Mike Houghton, president and chief executive of the Reno Air Racing Assn., identified the pilot as Jimmy Leeward. He's a well-known stunt pilot in the film industry and flew the same type of a plane, a P-51 Mustang, for the movies "Tuskegee Airmen" and "Smokey and the Bandit Part 3," according to IMDB.


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Photo: Medics help injured bystanders out of a helicopter at Renown Medical Center after a plane crashed into the crowd at the Reno National Championship Air Races. Credit: Liz Margerum / Reno Gazette-Journal