Jenifer Passmore and her husband, Christopher, have visited the Reno Air Races eight times since 1994. They take vacations from their jobs – she works for The Spokesman-Review’s prepress department, he’s a civilian working at Fairchild Air Force Base – and thrill at watching vintage airplanes race across the sky.
Those thrills turned to horror Friday, as the Passmores were 100 to 150 feet away from where a vintage P-51 Mustang aircraft crashed, killing the pilot and two spectators and injuring more than 50.
“We had debris that came at us,” she said by phone from their Reno hotel. They were not injured, but “we thought we were goners.”
“There was so much carnage.”
She said the plane, called The Galloping Ghost, pulled up, nosed over and then nose-dived into the ground. It was about 3 to 5 seconds from the time the plane pulled up to the time it crashed.
The injuries could have been worse. The grandstand was only 40 percent full, as the weekend days draw the biggest crowds, Passmore said. Also, she said, it appeared at the last second the pilot, identified as Jimmy Leeward, tried to maneuver his plane away from the grandstand.
“I think one of the most lucky things was … the plane obliterated on contact,” she said. Any kind of explosion, she added, would have been devastating.
With races canceled for the weekend, the Passmores are going to try to relax before returning to Spokane. She wasn’t sure how easy that was going to be, however, because “you can’t un-remember what you saw.”
“It’s very sad and I’m heartbroken for the people who lost their lives,” Passmore said, as she began to cry. “I get to go home with my husband. I hurt at the thought that there will be some who won’t have their partner with them when they go home.”