RENO, Sept 17 — A vintage World War Two fighter plane crashed near the grandstand at the Reno Air Races in Nevada yesterday, killing the elderly pilot of the P-51 Mustang and injuring scores of people, officials said.
There was no immediate word on how many other people may have died in the crash, although a Federal Aviation Administration official said earlier that multiple fatalities and critical injuries were reported.
Video apparently taken from the stands and posted on YouTube showed a plane crashing nose-down at the show north of Reno. Spectators could be heard gasping, “Oh, my God.”
The plane appeared in the video to have crashed near the stands, although the site of impact was not completely clear. Some spectators also appeared to have been sitting in front of the stands, not far from where the crash occurred.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said local fire officials were reporting “multiple fatalities and critical injuries.”
The head of the Reno Air Racing Association put the number of injured at between 40 and 50 people and said the pilot was killed, but had no information on other fatalities.
Michael Houghton, chief executive of the association, told a news conference the crash was “considered a mass casualty situation.”
A spokeswoman for Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, where some of the injured were taken by ambulance, said in a statement the center had received 21 patients and no further injured from the crash site were expected at this time. There was no word on the condition of the injured.
Mike Draper, a spokesman for the race organisers, told CNN the pilot of the plane that crashed was Jimmy Leeward, an octogenarian and well-known local pilot who was flying a P-51 Mustang called “The Galloping Ghost.”
In a June video posted at the website for the air race, Leeward said the Galloping Ghost raced from 1946 to 1950 in the Cleveland Air Races and afterward in other events.
He said his crew cut three metres off the plane’s length and made other modifications to improve its aerodynamic abilities and reach speeds of 800kph.
The Reno crash was the latest in a spate of fatal air show accidents since August.
Last month, the pilot of an aerobatic airplane died in a fiery crash in front of shocked onlookers at a weekend air show in Kansas City, Missouri. In Michigan last month, a wingwalker at an air show near Detroit plunged about 60 metres to his death as he tried to climb on to a helicopter in midair. — Reuters