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Reno Air Show Crash Kills Nine

The spectators at Reno’s National Championship Air Races and Air Show were not expecting to witness a horrific crash and subsequent carnage that took place last Friday. The accident has shined a spotlight on the safety of the 10 to 12 million spectators that attend air shows every year in the U.S. and Canada.

“The accident is believed to have been caused by a mechanical problem on the World War II-era plane that crashed onto the tarmac and killed its 74 year-old pilot and eight bystanders (seven died at the scene and two others passed away later at an area hospital).

“Investigators were inspecting the site, collecting pertinent information about the crash near the grandstand shortly after the incident. The amount of videos available should be able to help authorities determine exactly what went wrong.

“As the spectators watched, the P-51 Mustang suddenly jerked upward then nose-dived toward the grandstand. It then flew straight down into the tarmac and disintegrated into thousands of pieces in front of the pilot’s family and his close friends who were in attendance.

“Presumably, the bystander’s injuries and deaths were caused by the flying shrapnel from the wrecked plane. Ryan Harris, a spectator from Nevada said, “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 fifty to seventy-five feet.” Harris went on to say, “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 I noticed there were pieces of flesh.”

“John Townes, a pilot from Reno said, “It (the plane) wasn’t quite vertical. It was at a very slight angle and because of that I think it probably saved a lot of people.” It was also fortunate that the plane did not burst into flames.

“Before this past Friday, 19 people had been killed at this event since the Air Races began in 1964, but this is the first time spectators have been seriously hurt or killed. The rest of the events in the air show, which bring in millions of dollars for the local economy, have been cancelled.

“Stephanie Kruse, a spokesperson for the Emergency Medical Service, said that emergency teams transported 56 injured victims to three area hospitals. She also said that she saw other injured people being taken by private vehicles.

“Federal aviation officials and the organizers of the air race spend months planning and preparing for the Reno races. All participating pilots must have up-to-date medical documents and show their competence before they are allowed to fly. The FAA inspects the course and spectator area to ensure viewer safety.

“The FAA has cancelled races before out of concerns for spectator safety and barred certain aircrafts from participating.

““They’ve been talking about the dangers of the air races over the last decade,” U.S. Senator Dean Heller of Nevada said at the scene Friday night. “I would hate to think of what I’ve enjoyed of the air races over the many, many years is that this would be the end to an event like this.”

“Undoubtedly, this tragedy will bring about changes to air shows in the future. The FAA will have to decide if the risk of future personal injuries and deaths will outweigh the personal freedom and enjoyment gained by all those who choose to attend the air shows.

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