17 Sep 2011

Vintage warplane crashes into airshow crowd

10:07 pm on 17 September 2011

Three people were killed when a vintage warplane crashed into the spectator area at an air show near Reno in the American state of Nevada.

Local officials say the pilot is among the dead and dozens have been injured, many of them critically.

The plane, a modified World War II Mustang, went out of control and crashed into a box seat area in front of the main grandstand.

It was unclear if it smashed directly into people but eyewitnesses say wreckage and bodies were strewn across the airfield.

One witness, Johnny Norman, says the pilot either through his own actions or because the plane was out of control veered away from the grandstand and hit the tarmac.

Jeff Martinez, a local weatherman who was just outside the show grounds, says he saw the plane veer to the right before it crashed.

Pilot a regular at the event

The chief executive of the Reno Air Racing Association , Mike Houghton, says a mechanical fault was probably to blame but he's awaiting the results of an official investigation.

The plane was flown by Jimmy Leeward, a 74-year-old real-estate developer who had been flying at the event since the 1970s. He was killed in the crash.

Mr Houghton says most of Mr Leeward's family were at the event, the National Championship Air Races, which the BBC reports draws thousands of people every year in September to watch military and civilian planes race.

Mr Leeward's website says he has flown in more than 120 races and served as a stunt pilot for numerous movies.