Reno air race crash: Investigators launch probe

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe crowd watched as the plane crashed into the spectator stand - Amateur footage courtesy Casey White

An investigation has been launched after a vintage aeroplane crashed near a grandstand at an air race near Reno, Nevada on Friday.

Nine people were killed, police said on Saturday, including the pilot. Seven died at the scene and two others in hospital. Dozens were also injured.

Organisers said a mechanical fault was probably to blame but were awaiting the results of an official investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board is carrying out the inquiry.

The vintage World War II-era P-51 Mustang crashed at about 16:30 local time (23:30 GMT) on Friday at the National Championship Air Races.

"Nothing will be off the table when this investigation begins," Mark Rosenker, the former chairman of the transport safety board, told CBS News.

"Clearly, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered," he is quoted by AFP new agency as telling the US news network.

He added that video footage and communications between the pilot and the control tower would be examined.

'Just pulverized'

The Mustang had not been flying too close to the ground prior to the crash, according to Mike Houghton, head of the Reno Air Racing Association and CEO of the event.

He said that there appeared to be a "problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control".

Seven people, including the pilot, died on the tarmac at the race site while two people died later of their injuries in hospital, Reno Deputy Police Chief Dave Evans said.

At least six people remained in hospital in a critical condition on Saturday, medical officials said.

"This is a very large incident, probably one of the largest this community has seen in decades," Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority, told the Associated Press.

The Mustang, named The Galloping Ghost, was flown by well-known racing pilot Jimmy Leeward, 74.

Image caption Jimmy Leeward started racing planes in the 1970s

Mr Houghton said that Mr Leeward, from Ocala, Florida, was a property developer who had been racing planes since the mid-1970s.

He said that Mr Leeward's medical records had been "in tip-top condition".

He added that most of Mr Leeward's family had been at Friday's event.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval arrived at the scene and praised the emergency services for their "flawless reaction to what happened".

Mr Leeward's website says he had flown in more than 120 races and had been a movie stunt pilot.

Ronald Sargis, who was sitting in the box-seat area, said spectators could tell the plane was in trouble before it crashed.

"About six or seven boxes down from us, it impacted into the front row," Mr Sargis told KCRA-TV in Sacramento. He added: "It appeared to be just pulverized."

'Horrific tragedy'

The Reno Gazette-Journal website had posted a witness video of the crash from YouTube, but YouTube has now withdrawn it, saying it breached its terms.

Eyewitness Dr Gerald Lent, of Reno, told the newspaper: "It's just like a massacre. It's like a bomb went off. There are people lying all over the runway."

Democratic Nevada Senator Harry Reid issued a statement saying he was "deeply saddened" about the tragedy.

"My thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives and with those who were wounded in this horrific tragedy," he said.

The National Championship Air Races are held every year in September in Reno.

There have been safety concerns in the past, with four pilots killed in 2007 and 2008.

However, organisers and aviation authorities say they spend months in preparation for the event.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites