Pilots, witnesses react to Reno air show crash

September 18, 2011 11:47:54 AM PDT
Pilots and crew members spent Saturday afternoon quietly dismantling their equipment and loading their planes onto trucks following the announcement that the Reno air races were canceled.

The events were canceled following Friday's disaster in which a plane crashed nose-first into a crowd of spectators.

"We knew it could happen," said Taylor Eldredge who has been building planes with his father since he was 12-years-old. "There's always someone that crashes every year, but it's never been in the crowd."

Eldredge said he saw several ambulances following yesterday's crash near the Reno airport.

"It's just kind of a sick feeling in your stomach that you have to deal with," Eldredge said.

Now, Eldredge says he's dealing with another sick feeling: Knowing that as a result of veteran pilot Jimmy Leeward's tragic crash, he might never see the Reno air races again.

"I look forward to this every year," Eldredge said. "It's hard to know that we're not coming back."

Eldredge said he's not expecting there to be any races in Reno next year, but there are many pilots who say they don't want to see this tragedy bring an end to the event. Those pilots say they want the event to return after a careful examination of how to keep spectators safe.

They say Jimmy Leeward would have wanted it that way.

"I would just hate to see this industry, the air show and air racing industry, be shut down because of the accident," pilot Darryl Christen said.

Christen said he grew up watching Leeward fly planes, and though he's only met the pilot once, Christen said Leeward was well-known for his flying skills and his passion for aviation.

Seeing the rest of the show canceled, Christen said, would have made Leeward sad.

"I think (Leeward) himself would've preferred to see the show go on," Christen said. "Out of respect for him, and those who were injured gravely, I think it's good that they did go ahead and shut it down."

Christen's wife is still fielding frantic calls from friends and family members.

"Since yesterday, we've probably had 500 calls, text messages, emails," Mona Christen said. "A lot of people knew he was flying in the race."

While Christen was flying in Friday's races in Reno, others say those races might be their last.

"Half the pilots I've even heard talking are saying they're done," said Eldredge. "They're done flying. They're throwing in the rag, really."


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