Veteran aviation experts are suggesting that pilot Jimmy Leeward may have lost consciousness prior to crashing his 1940's era plane into a crowd of spectators at the National Championship Air Races in Reno. The fatal crash, which occurred on September 16, killed 11 people and injured over 70 others.
It will take months for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to conclude the investigation into what exactly caused the P-51 Mustang plane to crash, however some experts are saying Leeward probably lost consciousness due to abrupt and extreme acceleration.
The vintage plane pitched straight up at around 400 miles per hour before it plummeted hard to the ground, which means Leeward's body experienced 11 times the normal force of gravity (or G's), likely causing him to lose consciousness.
After viewing footage of the crash, structural engineer and aircraft consultant Ken Liano said, "my first thought when I saw the video was there's no way that pilot is in control. He went from horizontal to vertical so abruptly. No pilot would do that. Even an acrobatic pilot would probably not do that."
Photographs of the plane seconds before impact show a cockpit without a pilot, which prompted Ernie Christensen, a former commander of the Navy's Top Gun fighter school to say, "he's not there. He's unconscious. The first thing you do when you get in those conditions is pull power, and that plane hit fast. The power was up and that's an indication he was not in control of the airplane when it hit."
The NTSB investigation is focusing on 74-year-old Jimmy Leeward's health as well as a possible mechanical defect with the plane's elevator trim tab, which stabilizes the aircraft. Video footage shows a piece of the plane's tail falling to the ground moments before the plane crashed. It appears likely the loss of the elevator trim tab caused a sequence of events that ended in tragedy.