At about 1626 Pacific time, an experimental North America P-51D impacted terrain following a loss of control while maneuvering. The commercial pilot sustained fatal injuries; the airplane sustained substantial damage. Casualties on the ground included 10 fatalities and 74 injured. As of the time of this preliminary report, eight of the injured remain hospitalized, some in critical condition. Visual conditions prevailed for the local air race flight.
The airplane was participating in the Reno National Championship Air Races in the last event of the day. It had completed several laps and was in a steep left turn toward the home pylon when, according to photographic evidence, the airplane momentarily banked further left before banking to the right, turning away from the race course, and pitching to a steep nose-high attitude. Witnesses reported and photographic evidence indicates that a piece of the airframe separated during these maneuvers. After roll and pitch variations, the airplane descended in an extremely nose-low attitude and collided with the ground in the box seat area near the center of grandstand seating.
The airplane was equipped with a telemetry system that recorded data to on-board memory as well as broadcast it to a ground station, plus an onboard camera. The memory cards and numerous still and video image recordings were also sent to the NTSB’s Vehicle Recorders laboratory for evaluation.