Lawrence aviator, local attorney and real estate developer Steve Craig was standing less than 500 yards away from the air show plane crash that killed 10 people and injured dozens more last weekend in Reno, Nev.
“It was your worst fear in these races and any air show when you’re flying very high performance aircraft in close proximity to the ground and spectators,” Craig said. “The sad thing is so many innocent people were killed.”
He also was acquainted with the pilot, 74-year-old Jimmy Leeward, who lost control of his modified World War II-era P-51 Mustang and slammed into a box seat area.
After Craig witnessed the event, and saw photos and videos later, he said he had formed an opinion to how the crash occurred, though he stressed that federal aviation officials are still investigating the crash. Craig said as the plane was losing control, it looked like it was missing a part of the tail called the trim tab, which can affect the plane’s stability.
“That trim tab is an Achilles heel on these airplanes,” said Craig, who has flown P-51 Mustang aircraft from the era, but never one that had been modified like those used in the race.
Craig said he is close friends with John Penney, an accomplished racing pilot. Penney’s daughter, Heather Penney, was recently featured in a Washington Post story that told of her role on 9/11 as an Air Force pilot who was ordered to bring down the United Airlines plane that eventually crashed in Shanksville, Pa., even if that meant she had to ram the aircraft with her F-16 fighter plane.
She was sitting within 10 feet of the impact zone of the crash when it occurred, Craig said.
“She wasn’t scratched,” he said.
Nelson Krueger, a Lawrence pilot, has also attended the Reno race in the past. Last year, he attended the race in the pit area, where he had to sign a waiver to be granted access. He said he also thought the airplane’s trim tab was to blame for the crash, after looking at photos and video from the scene.
“Those box seats, I’ve sat in those very seats,” he said. “It’s kind of spooky to see.”
— Higher education reporter Andy Hyland can be reached at 832-6388. Follow him at Twitter.com/LJW_KU.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.