First lawsuit filed in Reno air crash that killed 10, plus pilot

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The family of a Texas man -- one of 10 spectators killed in the Sept. 16 crash at the National Championship Air Races in Reno -- has filed the first lawsuit stemming from the disaster.

In a $25-million lawsuit filed in Texas, attorneys for the family of Craig Salerno said the crash “was the predictable result of a reckless drive for speed by a risk taking pilot and crew, coupled with an insatiable drive for profit by those who stood to profit from the show.”

The pilot, Jimmy Leeward, was also killed in the crash. The accident occurred when his plane -- a souped-up World War II-era P-51 Mustang -- zoomed skyward, then pitched, rolled and slammed into the box-seat area, where Salerno was sitting. Salerno, a dispatcher for Continental Airlines in Houston and the married father of two young children, was killed instantly, the lawsuit said.

Federal investigators have said they’re reviewing evidence that suggests a piece broke off the tail of the plane, called the Galloping Ghost, around the time it suddenly swooped up.


Aviation experts have said that the trim tab -- an aluminum component that helps keep the plane’s nose down -- may have snapped off. The lawsuit said air show mechanics reported that Leeward’s team had been “having trouble” with the Galloping Ghost’s trim tab.

The Reno Air Racing Assn., which runs the event, was among the parties named in the lawsuit. Its chief executive, Michael Houghton, told the Associated Press that he hadn’t reviewed it yet.

“We fully expect a number of lawsuits to be filed,” he said. “This is the first.”

The suit also named a number of people who attorneys said helped modify the World War II-era plane to make it fly faster.


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--Ashley Powers in Las Vegas