RENO, Nev. – As identities of some of the dead from the Reno air race began to emerge Sunday, the National Transportation Safety Board said the doomed plane had two types of recording devices that might provide clues to what went wrong.
At least nine people – pilot Jimmy Leeward and eight spectators – were killed Friday when the World War II-era Galloping Ghost veered skyward during a qualifying heat, then plunged into the box seats.
Unlike most aircraft of the same size and vintage, Leeward’s plane had a forward-facing video camera and a system that tracked the aircraft’s engine and positioning, along with other data, the NTSB said. During flight, the data was transmitted to Leeward’s racing team, which turned it over to investigators.
And in a debris field resembling the aftermath of a bomb blast, investigators unearthed several memory cards caked in oil and dirt, said Mark Rosekind of the NTSB, which is overseeing the wide-ranging, months-long probe. The cards will be shipped to a lab to determine whether they came from the Galloping Ghost.
County medical examiners, too, continued to comb the debris for human remains, suggesting that the death toll could rise. Of the dozens injured, six remained in critical condition.
Officials said a preliminary report of the accident will be posted on the NTSB’s website Friday. The complete investigation will take months, they said, and probably will involve an examination of federal regulations on air races, a duty assigned to the Federal Aviation Administration.
One of the survivors gave a news conference from Reno’s Renown Regional Medical Center wearing a hospital bracelet on one wrist and his red “pit row” bracelet on the other.
Ed Larson, 59, lives in both San Diego and Genoa, Nev. With a severed Achilles tendon, a serious leg wound, a dislocated shoulder and head injuries, he said from his wheelchair, “I’m really lucky to be here.”
Authorities have not identified everyone who died at the National Championship Air Races, but they included George Hewitt, 60, of Fort Mojave, Ariz.; Greg Morcom, 47, of Marysville, Wash.; Michael Wogan, 22, of Scottsdale, Ariz..; and at least five others. Hewitt’s wife, Wendy, was among the missing.
Although they were the first spectators to die at what’s essentially an aerial NASCAR race, 19 pilots have been killed since 1972.