Trim Tab Missing On Reno Crash Plane? (Updated)

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A photo by Tim O’Brien of the Grass Valley Union appears to show that Jimmy Leeward’s Galloping Ghost P-51 race plane lost a trim tab before crashing at the National Championship Air Races in Reno on Friday, killing Leeward and eight others and injuring scores of others. Officials now say seven people died at the scene and two in the hospital. According to the Aviation Law Monitor, “without the trim tab, the aircraft may have been uncontrollable.” The photo was taken seconds before aircraft dove into the ramp on the edge of the spectator viewing area at Reno during a qualifying heat. Although the tab does appear to be missing, it can’t be determined from the photo whether its departure caused the sequence of events that led to the crash or whether the violent movements that preceded the crash caused the part to fail. Regardless, this photo is likely to be scrutinized carefully as investigators continue the grim task of piecing together what happened.

What is known is that Leeward had rounded the last pylon before the long straightaway in front of the grandstand when his aircraft pitched up, rolled and dove almost vertically into the cement just on the edge of the box seating area. Reports say Leeward called a single Mayday. There have been suggestions that Leeward attempted to maneuver away from the seating area, sparing many lives. As of mid-morning Saturday, the casualty count stood at nine dead and almost 60 injured, 15 critically. There was an incident during the 1998 Reno Air Races in which a trim tab came off a P-51 named Voodoo Chile. In that incident, also mentioned in AVweb‘s coverage, the aircraft pitched violently up, causing pilot Bob Hannah to black out under a G load estimated at 10 Gs. He regained consciousness at 9,000 feet and was able to land safely.