Leeward, a veteran airman and film stunt pilot was flying his P-51 Mustang fighter plane, the Galloping Ghost, in a Reno Nevada air show like he had done so many times before. He has flown in over 120 races and was also a Hollywood stunt pilot for numerous movies including “Amelia” and “Cloud Dancer”. In an interview last year, he described how he had flown in over 250 different types of planes, but had a special fondness for the P-51 Mustang. Fellow Mustang pilots Jim Beasley Sr., and Jim Beasley Jr., have had the honor of knowing and flying with Leeward.
Experienced stunt pilots and veteran airman usually do not crash their planes. They spend months preparing for air races or air shows. They spend hours training, testing, doing practice runs, route maneuvers and emergency procedures. So how did this happen? Spectators, event organizers and photographers all said the same thing. It appeared that there was a mechanical or product defect with the plane.
As Leeward was flying and in the process of moving from third place, into second place, his plane was noted to violently pitch upward, roll and then go into an uncontrollable nose dive towards the Grandstand full of spectators. A photographer said it looked like a part of the plane’s tail called the “trim tab” had fallen off during the flight and it caused the plane to suddenly climb. Mike Houghton, president and CEO of Reno Air Races, said that there appeared to be a “problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control”. Unfortunately, 3 people died, including Leeward, and 56 spectators were injured and transported to the hospital. Many credit Leeward’s skill, knowledge and experience in saving many others from being injured or killed. It was noted that Leeward was able to pull the aircraft up slightly, away from the entire crowd, just prior to the plane crashing. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the cause of the plane crash.
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