Looking to the Skies

It has been a tough 11 days in the northern Nevada area.  A shooting at a Carson City IHOP that left five dead and left another 11 wounded — then Friday a fatal crash involving spectators at the Reno National Championship Air Races.

Investigators are now saying at least nine people are dead in Friday’s accident at the Reno Air Races. The National Transportation Safety Board is beginning its investigation into what caused a vintage airplane to plunge out of control, killing the 74-year-old pilot as well as spectators and injuring nearly 70 others.

Mark Rosekind of the NTSB says the agency is focusing on securing the accident site.  Rosekind also says it is unlikely there was any kind of recording device on the World War Two-era plane that would help investigators determine what caused the plane to crash.  He said it could take as long as nine months to complete their investigation.

Reno hospitals say they were prepared for twice as many casualties as they handed in Friday’s deadly air race crash. Renown Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Kathy Carter says they had up to 198 beds available for incoming patients.

Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority director Ken Romero says his organization had a medical clinic on site as well as four ambulances, two of which were crash units. One of the crash units was in the pit area, 200 yards away from the impact zone.

He said they were able to start triage and treatment, “within seconds.”  About 20 EMS ambulances were on duty, but another 20 arrived within 15 minutes of the crash.

The pilot, Jimmy Leeward, of Ocala, Fla., was a veteran airman and movie stunt pilot who named his P-51 Mustang fighter plane “The Galloping Ghost.”    Investigators say they are examining the site, gathering information and are encouraged by the large number of photos and videos available to them.

They have not speculated on a cause but organizers point to a possible mechanical failure. Pictures and video appear to show a piece of the plane coming off before it crashed.

As of Saturday, 40 of the 69 people injured enough to be treated at hospitals had been discharged. The conditions of those still held: eight are critical; nine, serious; 10 fair; two good.

At least two of the injured are children.

So far 47-year-old Greg Morcom of Washington state and 22-year-old Michael Wogan of Phoenix, Arizona have been identified as one of the eight spectators killed in the crash. Meanwhile, Wogan’s father, Bill, lost his  right eye, some fingers on his right hand, suffered over 100 fractures to his face and remains in critical condition.

Twenty-two people have now been killed in crashes since Reno’s National Championship Air Races started in 1964. Nineteen pilots died in accidents before Friday’s crash that killed the pilot of a P-51 Mustang and two spectators — the first time onlookers were killed or seriously injured.

At least two previous accidents involved P-51s. In 1999, a Mustang disintegrated during a race, scattering debris and damaging a house. In 1994, one of the planes crashed next to a runway after engine failure sprayed the windshield with oil.

Organizers softened two of the curves pilots negotiate after crashes into nearby neighborhoods in 1998 and the one in 1999. In 2007 and 2008, four pilots were killed at the races, prompting local school officials to consider barring student field trips to the event.

Last month, a pilot was killed at a weekend air show in Kansas City, Missouri and a wing-walker plunged about 200 feet to his death at a show near Detroit.  Hours after the Reno accident, another World War Two-era plane crashed at an air show in Martinsburg, West Virginia killing the pilot.

Sadness hangs heavy in the heart and in the sky.

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