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Monday
Sep192011

Tenth Person Dies after Reno Air Race Plane Crash

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(RENO, Nev) -- A tenth person has died from injuries sustained when a stunt plane crashed at the Reno Air Race.

News of the death comes as investigators have turned their attention to pilot Jimmy Leeward, who may have been unconscious when his World War 2-era P-51 Mustang smashed into a crowd of spectators, killing him and nine others.

Leeward was traveling as fast as 500 miles an hour when he crashed, killing fans seated in the VIP seats on the tarmac. Leeward, 74, of Ocala, Fla., was a veteran stuntman.

Witnesses said that as the P-51 Mustang Galloping Ghost rounded the final clubhouse turn, something dropped off the tail of the plane, and that that may have been what caused the problem.

In one of the final photos taken before the crash, a piece of metal -- crucial for the aircraft to maintain balance -- appears to be missing. Investigators said that they recovered a damaged "elevator trim tab" among the debris.

In a video posted on YouTube in June, Leeward described how he had modified the old propeller plane to make it fly as fast as a jet.

Leeward's age and medical history may also prove relevant to their investigation, according to NTSB officials, while ABC News consultant and former pilot Steve Ganyard said that he is concerned that Leeward was not conscious during the crash.

"There is no pilot's head in that cockpit. It tells me that he was likely unconscious, slumped over the controls," Ganyard said.

National Transportation Safety Board officials said that the airplane had a recording system, and a box containing memory cards was found at the scene of the crash. Investigators say they'll analyze the cards to see if there is any footage that could explain what happened.

NTSB investigators said the plane was outfitted with a forward facing camera, which they were able to recover, along with the memory cards. They say it had a rudimentary data system and that these discoveries together may provide their best answers yet as to what happened in those final moments before the crash.

Investigators say the plane was equipped with a basic flight data system, which was recording real-time velocity, altitude, and engine performance information.

Investigators said that they'll be looking not just at the plane and the pilot, but also the regulations for these air races to determine what, if any, changes might make them safer.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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