The Two-Way
10:00 am
Mon September 19, 2011

Some Spectators Think Reno Pilot Was Trying To Steer Clear Of Fans

(Note at 12:10 p.m. ET: A 10th person has died, according to officials in Washoe County, Nev. We've updated the post to reflect that news.)

As investigators search for clues into the cause of Friday's deadly accident at a Reno air race, in which 10 people were killed and dozens more injured when a plane crashed into a V.I.P. tent, there are reports that some who were there think 74-year-old pilot Jimmy Leeward did his best to prevent an even worse tragedy.

"Fans at the race said it appeared that Leeward tried to steer the plane away from the stands where spectators were sitting," the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Times also reports that "as the nose came down at a steep angle — 70 or 80 degrees, [witness Gerald DeRego] said — the plane rotated a bit, enough to likely spare a number of onlookers.

Witness Art O'Connor, a private pilot, "said he believes ... Leeward tried to avoid hitting the grandstands," The Reno Gazette-Journal adds.

"You could see the guy peeling off toward the stands," O'Connor told the newspaper. "Then he goes straight up over the stands. We were so close it looked like a blob from underneath. He got up to the top, peeled over and came straight down. He hit in front of the box seats."

ABC News, though, reports that "consultant and former pilot Steve Ganyard said that he is concerned that Leeward was not conscious during the crash." He's looked at video and photos and can't see Leeward's head in the cockpit, which Ganyard says "tells me that he was likely unconscious, slumped over the controls."

There are several videos on the Web of the tragedy. The most-viewed clip is here (warning: it may be disturbing to some and does include several expletives).

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.