RENO, Nev. (CBS13) – On the final lap of a six-lap race at the National Championship Air Races, a vintage P-51 Mustang named the “Galloping Ghost” nosed into the air and rolled over.

Flying low to the ground, the 74-year-old experienced air racer and stunt pilot had little time to recover.

The airplane slammed into the ground near a crowd of seated audience members on a runway of the Reno-Stead Airport at about 4:20 p.m., disintegrating instantly in the violent crash. Numerous victims were thrown into the air as bystanders screamed and ducked away from flying debris.

Video of the moments after the crash showed a wreckage field dozens of yards wide. Dozens of victims lay injured while others were torn apart, body parts strewn across the area.

Cameron Park resident Mike Kremper told CBS13 minutes after the accident that “a lot of people were hurt today.”

“This is really a national tragedy,” he said.

Another eyewitness, Gary Clough of Valley Springs, said emergency crews quickly responded and ordered the injured to move away from the area.

“There were a lot of people crying, people hugging each other, making sure they were OK,” Clough said. “Some people were walking out with blood on them.”

The cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known, and the number of the deceased has not yet been tallied. Mike Houghton, president and CEO of Reno Air Races, said a total of 56 injury victims were transported to the hospital by authorities and a number of others were transported by private vehicle.

At least three deaths have been confirmed. The pilot, veteran airman Jimmy Leeward of Ocala, Florida, is among them.

Of the injured, 15 were transported to local hospitals in critical condition, 13 were in serious condition with life-threatening injuries and 28 more suffered non-life threatening wounds. The identities of the victims have not been released.

Leeward’s website, which was taken offline a couple hours after the crash, said the pilot had flown in more than 120 air races and worked as a stunt pilot in movies like “Amelia.”

In an interview with LiveAirShowTV, Leeward said he was excited to test out new modifications to his P-51 and said he planned to use Friday’s event to gauge his strategy for the rest of the races over the weekend.

“I think we’ve calculated out, we’re as fast as anybody in the field, or maybe even a little faster,” he said.

In a press conference Friday evening, Houghton said Leeward was “a good friend,” who almost certainly took every possible action to avoid casualties to the crowd.

“If it was in Jimmy’s power, he would have done everything he possibly could,” Houghton said.
Some witnesses said the plane tried to pull away from the crowd in its final moments and narrowly missed slamming into the bleachers, where thousands of people were sitting.

The remaining events at the National Championship Air Races have been cancelled, officials announced.
Multiple Federal Aviation Administration inspectors were observing the races at the time of the incident and are assisting the National Transportation Safety Board in their investigation of the circumstances leading up to the tragedy.

According to a 2008 USA Today article, 19 people have died at the event since it began in 1964, include three fatal crashes in 2007.

Anyone with concerns for friends or family members can call (775) 972-6663.

Comments (26)
  1. marcodarko says:


    1. cheetohman says:

      First time trolling?

    2. dante says:

      I always thought this would happen. The planes are hust to close to the stands and homes. Air shows should be viewed on big screen away from it all,

  2. Ericsgal says:

    OMG ….my boyfriend is there and it crashed 50 yards from him! Still waiting to hear back from him. This is awful…

    1. kelly65 says:

      If you need a new Boyfriend, Give me a call.

    2. Brooke says:

      Its bad my sister was in the third row box (the plane crashed right in front of them) about 15 feet away they are fine but it looked like a war zone body parts on the ground. some ppl were blown to pieces they were covered in other ppls blood and what is really sad is there are a lot of kids who were in the vip area and as of yesterday they were having a hard time locating ppl and kids.. I swear the death toll is going to be more like 2 dozen. Many ppl may not be in tact and hard to identify. Contact the 3 hospitals and see if he was admitted to one of those..

  3. Lalania Deaton Lind says:

    My prayers go out to the families of the victims and the pilot.

  4. Crystal Baccus says:

    My husband, father and oldest son are there. I received a call that they were ok.. the phone systems are overwhelmed be patient.. My husband said he had to try calling 15 times before he was able to connect.

  5. Lalania Deaton Lind says:

    this is a pic of the crash site. Horrifying!

  6. mrs Pittman says:

    how can I find out if my husband was one of the injured or not

    1. Brooke says:

      contact the hospitals see if they will inform you if not contact a rep from the reno air races and see where to go from there.

  7. Michelle Parker says:

    Casa Roble High School ROTC in Orangevale were on scene and near where the crash took place.

  8. Roxanne Chapman says:

    My husband, two married sons and, grandson go to this event every year. My husband called crying. They are all okay but, of course, are so shaken and saddened by the horrible accident. All of us are praying for all injured and all the families who lost loved ones, the pilots’s famility and all the racers who lost a friend and great competitor.

  9. LJD says:

    “Concerned family members should call 775.972.6663 and Air Race staff is working to locate and establish the status of all involved.” (From KTVN website.)

    Everyone concerned with pilots age…he is 74, not 80 as reported, and he passed recent medical exams just fine. Horrible tragedy. My sympathies to all involved.

    1. Robert says:

      Obviously your not looking at his history or have enough experience with aircraft. He was a very experienced pilot and yes he was 74yrs old. But with the plane spiraling out of control the way it did going into a nose dive something definitely went wrong with that plane. We may never know the truth behind the crash but you can blame the pilot when you know nothing about him or the plane

  10. korikill says:

    disaster, your comment has no place here, please leave.

    My deepest condolences to all affected in this tragedy.

    1. Johnny Yorba says:

      He was likely more fit than you. He passed every exam possible and was very experienced. He owned 2 very successful business’s as well he has a career in Hollywood as a stunt pilot.
      You don’t know jack from seeing a few seconds of a video. Statistically young boys 15 to 25 have more accidents than any other ages.
      Its highly unlikely judging from your lack of schooling (learn to spell and how to use grammar) that you have any money for anyone to steal. Get a real job or 2 like he had for 60 yrs. Then you can complain.

  11. jc says:

    The old boys club are making up all kinds of excuses for this terror, they are all to old to be in those air show races, now one news report says that parts of the plane were falling off before the he lost control, other people said the plane was out of control only one person said he was trying to avoid the crowd then it appears that the promoters and some of his buddies are attemping to make a hero out of him for supposedly trying to avod crashing into the spectators, this is “real” not Hollywood make believe where you can change the plot. God comfort the families of the victims, I pray that all those injured folks recover.

  12. Richard S. Hughey says:

    The FAA was there and I am sure that the couldn’t find their ass with both hands. Trust me folks they were just paid loffer’s on that day and were most likely following the races through beer binocular’s.

  13. Jo Names says:

    This is YESTERDAY’S article! Where is a fresh update for today?

  14. I am a fan says:

    While posting comments please remember people lost their lives, and people are injured! They will have to endure long and painful healing processes. Everyone needs to understand this is the fastest motor sports in the world, there has and will be accidents. In all motorsports people have lost their lives not just this one, as unfortunate as it is the risk is known by all. Many of my friends were there when this took place and this was the seating area I was to be in for Saturday and Sundays event. Your comments should keep all of this in mind. My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families affected in anyway..

  15. twimike says:

    Geez! Where’d you go to J school. Headline suggests more deaths than last reported. instead, a soft-lede with just reworking old info….8 paragraphs later you site three dead and several injured….

    sorry guys…not breaking news….and certainly a poorly worded headline!

  16. Whitey says:

    A word to the wise…. STOP GOING TO AIR SHOWS!

    How many people have to die before these are banned? If the pilots choose to do this with their lives… fine. But you’re insane if you go to another one of these. When planes malfunction or pilots make human errors, people run the risk of dying. Is it worth all that to see a plane do a flip? Seriously.

  17. Jenna Bold says:

    As the spouse of a race fan, I stand by this sport. The stories that need to be told as we quibble about age is the existence of a 50 plus year old Medevac helicopter, retired because she was outdated, put on static display and buried behind other military museum pieces. When the disaster happened, the museum cleared the path for her to be pushed out, fueled her and gave her 3 separate and precious cargo to transport. So while you bicker about a 74 year old man who shouldn’t be flying, keep in mind it was a 50 year old helicopter who was retired that made 3 trips to the hospitals and helped 6 people get the medical attention they needed. Just because it’s old and outdated is no reason to assume it shouldn’t fly and be productive.

  18. flyarmy says:

    Old pilot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Whats wrong with you people, have you forgot the old pilot that pulled off the miracle on the hudson??? Grow up and get a life, young pilots are more dangerous than old pilots. I know, I train young pilots, I just try to keep them alive till they mature into a professional pilot with experience. I won’t ride in a aircraft with any else flying unless they have a little gray.

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