Reno: A vintage World War Two fighter plane crashed near the grandstand at a Nevada air race on Friday, killing at least two people, including the elderly pilot, and injuring more than 50 others, officials said.
At least 15 people were in critical condition after the crash at the Reno Air Races, which a spokesman for the event called a "mass casualty situation" in a written statement.
The plane, a P-51 Mustang dubbed the "Galloping Ghost" that was being flown by well-known pilot Jimmy Leeward, crashed into a box seat area in front of the main grandstand at about 4:20 p.m., said Mike Draper of the public relations firm R&R Partners, which represents the race.
A Federal Aviation Administration official said separately that multiple fatalities and critical injuries were reported.
Video apparently taken from the stands and posted on YouTube showed a plane plunging nose-down into the tarmac as spectators were heard gasping: "Oh, my God."
Debris billowed near the crash site, and officials then told attendees to remain where they were so emergency workers could get to the scene.
The head of the Reno Air Racing Association, Michael Houghton, put the number of injured at 54 people and said the 74-year-old pilot was killed. He had previously put the pilot`s age at 80.
`Wasn`t going to recover`
Mark Hasara of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is a veteran of the Air Force who attended the race and witnessed the crash. "As soon as I saw his nose pointed at the ground, I knew he wasn`t going to recover," Hasara told a news agency.
Renown Regional Medical Center spokesman Dan Davis said that at least two people were killed in the crash, a man and a woman, but they were not identified and it was not clear if Leeward was one of them.
Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the regional emergency medical service authority, said that 15 of the injured were in critical condition.
In a June video posted at the website for the air race, Leeward said the Galloping Ghost raced from 1946 to 1950 in the Cleveland Air Races and afterward in other events.
He said his crew cut 10 feet off the plane`s length and made other modifications to improve its aerodynamic abilities and reach speeds of 500 mph.
"I know it will do the speed, the systems aren`t proven yet. We think they`re going to be OK," Leeward said in the video dating from June.
Houghton said Leeward, a well-known real estate developer and pilot who maintained an air-ranch in Ocala, Florida, was his good friend.
The Reno crash was the latest in a spate of fatal air show accidents since August.
Last month, the pilot of an aerobatic airplane died in a fiery crash in front of shocked onlookers at a weekend air show in Kansas City. In Michigan last month a wingwalker at an air show near Detroit plunged about 200 feet to his death as he tried to climb onto a helicopter in midair.
The Reno Air Races, which began in the mid-1960s, feature planes facing off in multi-lap races at an airfield north of Reno.