RENO, Nev -- Lynda Staples attends the Reno Air Race every year with her family. Her brother owns a private hangar and they participate in the races. The night before the race, 74 year-old pilot Jimmy Leeworth brought his race car to the hangar because he is good friends with Staples’ brother.
On Friday afternoon, Leeworth was flying his vintage World War II P-51 airplane in the unlimited class race when something went wrong.
“If there’s any hints of trouble, the pilots are supposed to declare a ‘may-day’ and fly up out of the race zone and they’re accompanied by the spot plane until they land,” said Staples. This didn’t happen.
“The plane started behaving really erratically and at that point people knew he was in trouble and you can hear the cries of the crowd and you can hear people screaming ‘oh no, oh no,’” recounts Staples as she watched from a distance.
Staples estimates the plane crashed about 35 feet from the box seats and around 50 feet from the grandstands.
The P.A. announcer asked for anyone with a medical background to report immediately to the scene. Staples is a registered nurse at Riverbend Hospital in Springfield. She grabbed her medical kit and drove her golf cart to the accident.
“It looked like a battle zone. It was eerily quiet except for the engines running around,” said Staples.
“There was clothing and broken chairs and peoples possessions and drinking cups and pieces of the plane and dirt everywhere,” recounts Staples.
Debris was scattered around the area and she says people were covered in aviation fuel.
“Some of the people you couldn’t tell their race because they were coated with debris and dirt,” said Staples.
Staples stayed at the scene until everyone was cleared out. The aviation races were canceled for the rest of the weekend.