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Sep 19, 2011 6:51 PM by Matt Stafford

Local pilot saw everything in Reno; shares story with News 5

Many have seen the images from the plane crashes in air shows over the weekend several times, but one local pilot who was at the Reno air races says he saw everything; it's a scene he won't soon forget.

Eyes were in the sky Friday in Reno, Nevada as planes at the National Championship Air Races ripped around the course. Pilot Jimmy Leeward -- with his World-War-Two-era P-51 Mustang... "The Galloping Ghost" -- were the talk of the show. Leeward had one of the fastest planes there.

"It was really the airplane to watch during this race," says Pat Carlile, a local pilot who was at the Reno air race. This was his 15th year to attend the races, and this year he was watching Leeward.

"He was taking third place right behind the leading aircraft, and everybody was watching him," describes Carlile, recalling moments before the crash.

Carlile says he saw Leeward's plan making jerking movements that looked like mechanical issues to him; then he saw the crash.

"It was pretty evident that he wasn't going to pull up in time," says Carlile.

Carlile says he didn't know Leeward was heading for spectators until he hit the ground.

"I though he was probably ten (rows) deep in, and right away I thought, 'There's going to be hundreds of people injured if not killed."

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the scene, and is still looking for answers. They're checking into a part of the plane's tail that photos show a part coming off of Leeward's plane before the crash. Carlile says it's the trim tab; which he says isn't a primary flying mechanism, but at the high speeds they're flying it could have had an impact.

"It's going to change the attitude of the aircraft in some way, that's for certain," Carlile explains.

The rest of this year's air races were cancelled after the crash.

Carlile points out that air racing is a fading sport; with these in Reno being the last races out there. He's not sure if he'll get to watch again.

"We would hate to see it be the end of it, but we have to make sure the spectators are safe," says Carlile. He points out that spectators currently sit hundreds of yards from all of the action, but that could change as safety officials talk about how to handle the sport moving forward.

Carlile hopes to be back next year, but he says it may be a while before we have answers from this year's race; he's expecting six to nine months, or more, before we hear any of the NTSB's findings.

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