NTSB looking at possibility of airframe failure in Reno crash

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 23, 2011 1:58 PM
NTSB looking at possibility of airframe failure in Reno crash

(Reuters) - Investigators probing last week's deadly crash of a World War Two-era plane at a Nevada air race are looking at the possibility a piece of the aircraft fell off shortly before it plowed into spectators, according to a preliminary report released on Friday.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is trying to determine what caused 74-year-old pilot Jimmy Leeward to lose control of his vintage P-51 Mustang and slam into a box seat area in front of the grandstand, said there were indications a piece of the modified fighter plane fell off as Leeward turned and headed toward the grandstand.

"The airplane had completed several laps and was in a steep left turn toward the home pylon when, according to photographic evidence, the airplane suddenly banked momentarily to the left before banking to the right, turning away from the race course, and pitching to a steep nose-high attitude," the NTSB said.

"Witnesses reported and photographic evidence indicates that a piece of the airframe separated during these maneuvers."

Eleven people, including Leeward, were killed in the accident and another 66 were seriously injured, including eight who remain in the hospital, some in critical condition.

The accident happened last Friday during the last event on the final day of the Reno National Championship Air Races.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Jerry Norton)