A vintage WW II airplane plunged into the grandstands of a popular air race event in Reno, Nevada, on Friday afternoon, in what was described as a “mass casualty situation”.
Until now, three people were confirmed dead and more than 50 injured in the accident at the Reno Air Races. The pilot appeared to lose control and his plane veered into a box area in front of the grandstand at around 4:30 p.m. A medical officer said many of the critically injured were considered to have life-threatening injuries.
According to an eyewitness, the crash was an “absolute carnage”, a horrific scene strewn with body parts and smoking debris.
The Reno Air Races president, Mike Houghton, the 74 year-old pilot, Jimmy Leeward from Ocala, Florida, was among the dead.
Jimmy Leeward was a veteran airman and film stunt pilot who named his P-51 Mustang fighter plane the Galloping Ghost.
Jimmy Leeward was the owner of the Leeward Air Ranch Racing Team and he had flown more than 120 races, according to his website.
The P-51 Mustang, a class of fighter plane that can fly at more than 500 mph, crashed into a box-seat area in front of the grandstand at about 4.30pm, race spokesman Mike Draper said.
Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority said that emergency crews took 56 injury victims to three hospitals and an unconfirmed number of other people were transported to hospital in private vehicles.
Of the 56 victims, 15 were considered in critical condition, and 13 were in serious condition with potentially life-threatening injuries.
“This is a very large incident, probably one of the largest this community has seen in decades,” Stephanie Kruse said.
“The community is pulling together to try to deal with the scope of it.”
According to organizers of the event, a mechanical fault was probably to blame but they were awaiting the results of an official investigation.
Mike Houghton said the crash appeared to be a “problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control”.
The rest of the races were cancelled as the National Transportation Safety Board investigated.
The National Air Championship Air Races draws thousands of people every year in September to watch various military and civilian planes race.