Plane Crashes at Reno Air Races; 3 Dead, Scores Injured

Pilot went down near grandstand
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 16, 2011 7:41 PM CDT
Updated Sep 16, 2011 9:32 PM CDT

(Newser) – As thousands watched in horror, a WWII-era fighter plane competing in a Nevada event described as a car race in the sky suddenly pitched upward, rolled, and did a nose-dive toward the crowded grandstand. The plane, flown by a 74-year-old veteran Hollywood stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward, 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. Three people were killed and more than 50 injured amid a horrific scene strewn with smoking debris.

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Authorities say it appears a mechanical failure with the P-51 Mustang, a class of fighter plane that can fly in excess of 500mph, was to blame. The National Championship Air Races draws thousands of people every year in September to watch military and civilian planes race. The races have attracted scrutiny in the past over safety concerns, with four pilots killed in 2007 and 2008. Apparently, the 9/11 would-be kamikaze pilot, Heather Penney, and her father, were racing on opposite teams at the event. (Read more Reno, Nevada stories.)

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