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EAA Mourns Tragedy at Reno Air Races

Jimmy Leeward
Jimmy Leeward

September 16, 2011 – Tragedy struck the Reno National Championship Air Races in Nevada late Friday afternoon when the P-51 Galloping Ghost piloted by longtime EAA member/director Jimmy Leeward apparently an encountered an unknown problem during an Unlimited time trials event and crashed into an audience area near the grandstand. 

Initial news reports from the event indicated at least three people died in the mishap with at least 54 more injured, some of them seriously, according to Reno Air Racing Association CEO Mike Houghton. It marks the first time that an accident at the event had included spectators, Houghton said. The races will be shut down for the remainder of the weekend, with a memorial service planned for 1 p.m. Mountain Time Saturday in the Leeward pit area on the race grounds.

EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower, who is onsite at Reno, said, “This is a tremendous loss for aviation.  Jimmy Leeward was a great friend of aviation and a great friend of EAA. His death is a loss for the entire aviation community.” EAA also extends its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Leeward, who lost his life in the accident, as well as those in the spectator ranks who were killed or injured. Hightower and all EAA staff members attending the event are safe and accounted for.

The 74-year-old Leeward, an Ocala, Fla., resident, had served as an EAA board member for more than 20 years. Galloping Ghost, a former Cleveland Air Race aircraft from the 1940s, was restored to flying condition under Leeward’s direction in recent years. Leeward had flown thousands of hours in high-performance aircraft, including many years of competition and more than 100 races at Reno. Leeward and his Galloping Ghost were featured in the May issue of Sport Aviation.

The National Transportation Safety Board is now on the scene to lead the accident investigation.

EAA will update this story as further details are confirmed.

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