NTSB issues preliminary report in Reno air races crash

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Federal investigators are looking into witness reports that suggest a piece of the souped-up plane that crashed at the National Championship Air Races in Reno broke off around the time the aircraft pitched violently skyward, according to a preliminary report released Friday.

The crash a week ago killed the pilot and 10 spectators and injured 74 others, the National Transportation Safety Board said in the report. The brief summary of evidence, which draws no conclusions as to the crash’s cause and contains few surprises, is a prelude to what the agency has said will likely be a wide-ranging, months-long investigation.


Investigators hauled off the mangled P-51 Mustang’s control system and control surfaces from the debris field at Reno-Stead Airport, the report said. They also collected what are likely remnants of the plane’s two recording systems: a forward-facing video camera and an onboard data box.

Investigators are analyzing memory cards that appear to be from the camera, the report said. They’re examining the crushed data box, as well. The box also sent information about the plane’s engine and positioning to ground crew members, who’ve turned over that data to the NTSB.

Flown by veteran Hollywood stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward, 74, the Mustang -- called the Galloping Ghost -- had completed several laps around an air course marked by pylons in the day’s last event. The plane made a steep left turn toward the home pylon.

Then, the report said, it banked left, banked right, turned away from the course and shot into the sky. “Witnesses reported and photographic evidence indicates that a piece of the airframe separated during these maneuvers,” the report said.

Afterward, the plane rolled and pitched. Then it slammed nose-first into the box-seat area.



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-- Ashley Powers in Las Vegas