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Cause of Reno crash not known


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Cause of Reno crash not known

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RENO, Nev. — Federal investigators were on the scene of a deadly air show in Nevada on Saturday in efforts to find out why a World War II-era fighter plane suddenly pitched upward, rolled and did a nose-dive toward the crowded grandstand.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Terry Williams told The Associated Press Saturday that it was too early to say what caused the crash.
The death toll remained at 3 on Saturday, after earlier confusion over the number of victims at Renown Regional Medical Center, according the Reno Gazette-Journal.
More than 50 were injured and it was feared the death toll could rise even higher. A status check from the Reno hospital showed six people were listed in critical condition and two others were listed as serious, according to the Reno newspaper.
Organizers of the National Championship Air Races earlier said it appeared a mechanical failure with the P-51 Mustang was to blame.
It appeared that other than the pilot, the injuries and deaths were caused by flying parts of the disintegrating plane — not a direct hit.
“It came down directly at us. As I looked down, I saw the spinner, the wings, the canopy just coming right at us. It hit directly in front of us, probably 50 to 75 feet,” Ryan Harris, of Round Mountain, Nev., told the AP. “The next thing I saw was a wall of debris going up in the air. That’s what I got splashed with. In the wall of debris noticed there were pieces of flesh.”
The plane, flown by a 74-year-old veteran Hollywood stunt pilot, slammed into the concrete in a section of VIP box seats and blew to pieces in front the pilot’s family and a tight-knit group of friends who attend the annual event in Reno.
“It absolutely disintegrated,” said Tim O’Brien of Grass Valley Calif., who attends the races every year. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
The crash, which happened just before 4:30 p.m. during the National Championship Air Races at the Reno-Stead Airport, left a horrific scene strewn with smoking debris.
Bloodied bodies spread across the area as people tended to the victims and ambulances rushed to the scene. Video and photos of the crash were captured by several people in the stands, and the horrific images of the wreckage were transmitted around the world within minutes.
John Townes, a Reno pilot, said the plane didn’t sound right.
“It wasn’t quite vertical. It was at a very slight angle and because of that I think it probably saved a lot of people,” he said. “Normally when you see an air crash, you see recognizable wreckage. There was nothing, just little bits of metal.”
Mike Draper, a spokesman for the Reno National Championship Air Races, described the scene as “a mass-casualty situation.”
Prior to Friday, 19 people had been killed at the National Championship Air Races since their start 1964, organizers said, at least two in P-51s. In 1999, a Mustang disintegrated during a race, scattering debris and damaging a house. In 1994, one of the planes crashed next to a runway after engine failure sprayed the windshield with oil.
Organizers softened two of the curves pilots negotiate after crashes into nearby neighborhoods in 1998 and the one in 1999. In 2007 and 2008, four pilots were killed at the races, prompting local school officials to consider barring student field trips to the event.
Friday’s crash was the first time spectators were killed or seriously injured.
Authorities said it appeared that a mechanical failure with the P-51 Mustang — a class of fighter plane that can fly in excess of 500 mph — was to blame. The pilot, Jimmy Leeward, was among those killed.
Two others have been confirmed dead, but their identities have not been made public.
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