- (Photo: REUTERS/KRNV-TV)
A World War II-era fighter plane crashed into box seats at the Reno Air show Friday, causing at least three deaths. Witnesses have described the accident as horrific and gruesome.
More than 50 people were injured after the P-51 Mustang nose-dived near the grandstands and exploded. Though there was no fire, the hard impact caused debris to fly and left a "mass casualty situation," according to the National Championship Air Races and Air Show website.
Air show officials said the crash occurred at approximately 4:20 p.m. during Unlimited Class qualifying. The pilot of the "Galloping Ghost" killed in the crash was Jimmy Leeward, a 74-year-old Hollywood stunt pilot.
Several witnesses told media outlets that Leeward tried to move the plane as far from the crowd as he could when he apparently lost control.
Video footage of the scene, uploaded on YouTube, show planes making laps at around 500 mph until Leeward's aircraft is seen suddenly pulling up vertically then nose diving at the edge of the grandstands.
It was a six-lap race and the crash occurred during the third lap.
According to Mike Houghton, president and CEO of Reno Air Races, there appeared to be a "problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control," as reported by The Associated Press.
"It was a horrendous thing to witness," Ben Cissell, a spectator, told Anderson Cooper on CNN.
"I think that that pilot in the last two seconds pulled up because he saw the bleachers and I would guess he probably saved two to three hundred other people."
Among the injured, at least a dozen were in critical condition, with some suffering severed body parts.
The 2011 National Championship Air Races, a Sept. 14-18 event, has been canceled.
"The National Championship extends their deepest sympathies and condolences to all of the families involved in today’s tragic accident. The Air Races are truly one big family and our thoughts are with all of our aviation family members, immediate and extended."