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Deadly Plane Crash in Nevada Air Races

Aired September 16, 2011 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. It is 10:00 p.m. on the East Coast.

We are following breaking news tonight out of Nevada, where a plane has crashed during a popular annual air race. There are mass casualties according to locals on the ground and carnage. The pilot, Jimmy Leeward, is believed to have died. KTVN is reporting that the pilot, Jimmy Leeward, was 80 years old. He's from Florida. He's a stunt pilot who has appeared in films. He's been a pilot much of his life.

It's not clear how many other people were killed or injured. We are waiting for a press conference to begin. We believe that will begin momentarily. We will take it live to get the latest information.

In the meantime, we want to show you what was caught on tape. Look at the left side of your screen. As you look at this you will see the plane coming straight down before that person's head gets in the way. We will continue to show that to you just so you get a sense of the speed with which this was traveling and the direction, heading straight down, should have been traveling obviously in a horizontal position as other planes were during this race, crashed into a box seat area in front of the main grandstand.

The plane, a P-51 Mustang, a World War II era fighter plane known as the Galloping Ghost. The pilot, Mr. Leeward, was competing at the National Championship Air Races and Air Show at the Reno-Stead Airport. Witnesses say his plane was about 400 to 500 feet in the air when it nosedived.

Renown Regional Medical Center has confirmed that it has received a total of 21 parents so far.

Joining me now is Fred Scholz. He witnessed the crash. He's a pilot himself.

Fred, what did you see?

FRED SCHOLZ, EYEWITNESS: Well, what I seen, we looked up above the grandstands and he was in trouble and coming straight down.

I think he was trying to do whatever he could right up to the end. I could hear the engine of the plane changing RPMs. And it just happened so fast. I thought he was coming in on top of us. Instead, he missed us by about 100 feet and went out into the box area in front of us.

COOPER: And there was no fireball as a result, right?

SCHOLZ: No. I was sort of surprised. You know, we are all kind of like a deer in the headlights. I have been coming to the air races for over 20 years. As a matter of fact, we stay out here for the entire five days, camp and go to the air races, but there was no fire whatsoever.

So the direction of impact, hard to say why there wasn't, but fortunately, there wasn't.

COOPER: Did you get a sense of the number of people who have been injured?

SCHOLZ: No. It was pretty hard to tell, you know? After thinking back on it, it looked like, you know, he may have done as little damage as possible at the direction he came in. Most of the debris went out onto the tarmac and taxiway in front of the boxes and a relatively small area of the boxes were actually affected.

COOPER: And tell me about these box seats. These are for -- there's the grandstand area. What are the box seats?

SCHOLZ: They are mostly businesses that bring in all their employees out. I think most of them are aviation-related businesses. They come from all over the country and they sit out there. Often, they have little blowup swimming pools and things like that in this box area, but...

COOPER: So, those are sort of the prime seats. When -- you said you could tell that the pilot was in trouble. Did you see the aircraft when it was flying normally or was your first look at it when it was already plunging straight down?

SCHOLZ: No, I caught him. Came over the deadline and...

COOPER: What's the deadline?

SCHOLZ: That's -- they can't come any closer to the stands than the deadline. And so, he came over that for some reason.

Whether he was forced out or he had a mechanical breakdown, something happened that forced him out over the deadline towards the grandstands. Then I heard his engine and looked up. And like I say, he was within 100 feet. He was coming right down on top of us. So, you know, pretty hard in a matter of seconds to say what you're feelings were, but it just happened very quick.

COOPER: Well, I'm so glad you were OK.

Did -- we understand -- I talked to one of the representatives from the race who said that they did receive a mayday call from the pilot, Mr. Leeward.

SCHOLZ: That's very possible. He may have encountered this problem, called a mayday. I think he was trying to salvage it. You know, these guys, I'm sure the last thing he thought was, oh, my gosh, I'm going into a crowd of people, which -- you know, it's very safety- oriented out here.

And this was just, you know, a bad -- bad luck situation is what it was.

COOPER: The pilot was a real estate developer out of Ocala, Florida, we believe killed in the crash. Have -- you have been to a lot of -- to air races, a lot of air shows. Have you ever seen anything like this?

SCHOLZ: Well, we have seen -- you know, I have seen three or four now, fatal air crashes from racers, but this is the first one that's been this close. You know, it is an extreme motor sport. It goes back to the barnstorming days. I'm sure there's an inherent danger for involved in it, whether you're in the plane or in the stands. It's just the way it is. I don't know what they could do to correct that.

COOPER: I know the event itself has now been canceled. There's going to be a memorial for the pilot held at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, September 17, in the Galloping Ghost pit at the Reno-Stead airfield.

I also just wanted to tell anybody who is concerned about loved ones who were attending this event, I saw on Twitter some people saying their loved ones had attended this event, and hadn't been able to reach them.

There is a number that family members can call. It's 775-972- 6663. That's 775-972-6663. We will put that on the screen later on. And air race staff, I'm told, is trying to locate and establish the status of anybody involved. And again, we anticipate this press conference at the National Championship Air Races.

Listen, I really appreciate you talking to us and telling us what you saw. I'm so glad that you and your loved ones are OK. Thanks very much for being with us.

SCHOLZ: You're welcome. Thank you.

COOPER: Jim Tilmon is on the phone with us as well.

Jim, you have been seeing that video now. What do you make of it?

JIM TILMON, FORMER AMERICAN AIRLINES PILOT: Well, after seeing it a bit more clearly, it appears he just absolutely lost it. I mean, that airplane was a rock coming down. It was like -- it wasn't falling like an airplane falls. It wasn't gliding or whatever else. He just came straight down.

And whatever happened aboard that airplane must have been absolutely catastrophic.

COOPER: And again, the P.R. representative for the field said that they did receive a mayday call and he said that he believed the pilot was trying to pull up, trying to pull out of it, but clearly from that video, at the point at the video that we see the plane in the video, there was no pulling out of that.

TILMON: No -- you know, it is possible to literally get a airplane into a configuration where you cannot literally control it. And something had to go wrong that made it just literally impossible for him to have any kind of positive control over the flight itself.

I mean, you know, not being able to pull out it is -- well, it's understandable under that kind of a plunge. But (INAUDIBLE) I'm concerned about the pilot and whether or not something happened to him before this happened, whether or not he had some sort of a medical situation or whatever else. (INAUDIBLE) They have to look at medical and they have to look at the mechanics of the airplane.

COOPER: The pilot was said to be about 80 years old. That -- there's all right already some people asking questions about whether, you know, that might be too old. What are your thoughts on that?

TILMON: Well, you know, I'm a bad one to ask, because I don't believe that chronology has a whole lot to do with your capabilities. And I think if he was able to pass his flight physicals and he was able to go out and fly a P-51 successfully, unless he had some medical emergency, I cannot imagine how that would have made the difference in this flight.

Eighty years old is not -- he is not a young guy, but by the same token, from all I have been able to hear so far...

COOPER: Now, I have been reading, according to the FAA, race organizers at an event like this really spend months preparing for it, developing a comprehensive plan. The FAA closely -- according to the FAA, they closely examine the race course, the proposed spectator area, they observe pilots' practice runs they conduct examinations of pilot and aircraft records to make sure they meet all qualifications.

So it sounds like -- it sounds, Jim, as if certainly the FAA not only was on the scene, but had been looking after the safety of this thing for quite a while.

TILMON: They have to do that, Anderson, and they do a very thorough job of it.

Let's face it. They do that kind of work every time you have aircraft and people on the ground that they're flying anywhere near. And there are some very strict rules about where you're allowed to fly and what altitudes you are allowed to fly during these kinds of events.

This was not a common situation. This is not something that's common to air races or common to air shows. There are some things we are going to learn about this that are going to separate it from those other kinds of events.

COOPER: Jim, stand by. We're going to take a short break. On the other side of that break, we are going to bring you that press conference live. It's going to be in just a few minutes. We will be back for that.

Let's take a break.


COOPER: Well, if thank just joining us, the breaking news tonight, a plane crash at an air race in Reno, Nevada, reports of mass casualties, exactly numbers unknown right now. A P-51 Mustang plane crashed into a box seat area at the National Championship Air Races.

The pilot's name, Jimmy Leeward, a stunt pilot, real estate developer from Ocala, Florida. You see the crash right there. The air show says there is no official confirmation, but it does appear he was killed in the crash and a memorial is planned for tomorrow at the airfield.

Just yesterday, he had this to say about the upcoming race.


JIMMY LEEWARD, PILOT: Right now, I think we have calculated out we're as fast as anybody in the field, or maybe even a little faster, but to start with, we really didn't want to show our hand until about Saturday or Sunday. We have been playing poker since last Monday.

And so it's ready to -- we are ready to show a couple more cards, so we will see on Friday what happens. And then Saturday, we will probably go ahead and play our third ace. And on Sunday, we will do our fourth ace.


COOPER: Well, his dad was a pilot. He was pilot all his life.

We're joined once again on the phone by Jim Tilmon, a retired airline pilot. Also CNN producer Kelly Smoot is also live on the scene in Reno.

Kelly, you just talked to an eyewitness. What did they say?


As I was arriving here this evening after the crash, a couple of pilots, amateur pilots themselves from Ontario who witnessed the crash, they said Galloping Ghost, that P-51, was coming out of that last turn, it looked like it either hit a stall or that something happened and that he lost control of the aircraft and pitched up he said and then was upside-down, did a half-loop, wavered a few times, appeared that he tried to get control.

And then they said that he actually headed straight down into the ground, right in front of the grandstands, into those boxes where people are able to buy boxes for friends and family and they sit out in front of the grandstands, closer to the airfield, closer to the planes, so they get a better shot, a better view of the planes during the air races.

He said -- these two gentlemen from Canada said that the sound of the impact of the crash was just unbelievable. One of them described it as absolutely sickening and that they thought the implications of this crash was pretty serious.

Governor Sandoval is on his way now to be joined for a press conference that we are waiting for here at the airport. After the crash, these two witnesses said that there was just debris flying everywhere. They were actually located in the pits section of the air races, where the planes get their maintenance done, that people can buy tickets to walk around in the pits area to look at the planes, to talk to the crews, take pictures.

And they were -- these two witnesses were standing there when they saw the planes coming around in that last heat for the day with these, what they call the unlimited, which is modified airplanes that can race up to 500 miles an hour and more.

The way that they described the actual race that was going, another P-51 nicknamed Strega was far in the lead, but that Galloping Ghost, the plane that crashed, was close and fighting for second place with another plane nicknamed Rare Bear. So, Strega was far in the lead, but Galloping Ghost and Rare Bear were fighting for second when that -- came into that last turn and the crash happened.

They were, like I said, in the pits view, so they said they did not see the actual crash, but they saw the last turn and the plane head into the ground. They just did not see the actual impact, but they did see debris flying everywhere. They said there were hundreds of people in the stands who saw the whole thing, but that there were no indications before that last turn that there were any problems with the plane.

The crowd reaction, they said, was that they couldn't believe what they saw and that the first thing one of the witnesses said was that we just saw a lot of people die. These two gentlemen who came here, they are amateur pilots, as I said. This is their third year coming as spectators. They come down from Canada. They enjoy this every year. And they said, afterwards, they were just wandering, wandering around the airfield sort of in disbelief.

COOPER: Understandable.

SMOOT: They didn't feel right. They felt numb, as they described it.

And so now we are waiting for the Reno Air Racing Association CEO and president and the governor to meet and to have a press conference and let us know what the latest figures are of casualties.


COOPER: We are going to bring that press conference to our viewers as soon as it occurs. Kelly, stick with us.

Roland and Karen Schumann joining us now on the phone from Lake Tahoe. They were at the air show. They saw the crash.

I appreciate you both being with us.

What did you -- what did you see?

ROLAND SCHUMANN, EYEWITNESS: Yes, Anderson, thanks for having us on.

My wife and I were watching the air races. We had been there all day. And we were on the from the row of the grandstand. The way that the field was set up, you had multiple actions, A through I think F or G, and then there were box seats in front of it. And we were in the middle of the grandstand, but on the front row, up against the box seats.

And as we were watching this, I think it was the final heat of the day, the planes were coming around, and the announcer called out that one of the planes was pulling up. And so most of the people were watching the rest of the planes, but I let my eyes go follow the plane as it was taking up and going over almost vertically, as it was pulling up over the grandstands.

He was clearly trying to clear the grandstands. And as we watched it, it was one of those events that you hear about people describing accidents like this, where everything seemed like it was in slow motion. The plane came to a stall. I realized he was not going to clear the grandstands. And I shouted to my wife, "He's not going to make it. Get down."

We both hit the ground on the front row of those grandstands that you're seeing and heard the impact. I looked over. I saw the debris flying off from the impact zone. Both of us were down on the ground, could hear the shrapnel zinging off of the metal, the aluminum grandstands.

And there was just a hushed silence and a bunch of "Oh, my God"s, "What's going on?" And after I heard the last of the debris field -- or the debris fall from the impact field, we both stood up, looked over at the impact area. And I could see where the box seats had been were decimated. It was pretty horrific.

Lots of sobbing echoed through the stands. My wife was really devastated by it in particular. I have a military background and I have been in near-death experiences before, so it didn't have the same impact on me. But I comforted her.

We thought that the best thing to do would be to get out of harm's way, get out of the way of first responders that were going be in that area. And so we left the grandstands at that point very much in shock.

COOPER: Do you have any sense of numbers of people who were injured, just based on what you saw? R. SCHUMANN: You know, it is hard to say. We were trying to tune in on the radio just to hear if it had been verified.

I saw multiple people down in the area where the plane hit. Again, there are these box seats. If you have been to trade shows or events like this, they make these box seats out of these temporary metal or aluminum poles that just sort of separate one 10-by-10-or- something area where they have put some folding chairs and you get closer to the excitement, closer to the action, what have you.

And these things line the front of the grandstand area. And where the plane hit, those poles were completely unapparent. You just couldn't see them. They had been completely blown away.

And I saw a lot of bloodied people, people standing in shock looking around. They came over the loudspeaker and asked people to don't come down here, but don't leave. Just stay where you are. Don't get in the way, and turn your children away from it because, again, it was a pretty horrific sight with lots of blood and lots of very catastrophic injuries, as you might expect.

COOPER: Karen, if I could just ask, how are you doing? Are you doing OK?

KAREN SCHUMANN, EYEWITNESS: Well, I'm still shaking. I'm still shaking. And I'm just very, very thankful for -- if the pilot had any power to take the plane back over towards the middle area away from people, he certainly saved us, and -- if he did have that power. And I'm really pretty -- very, very shaken.

COOPER: Yes, understandable.

R. SCHUMANN: As the plane was falling back to earth, he probably passed about 100 feet over us and just barely pulled away from the stands. It could have been a lot worse.

I mean, it's tough to say that it could have been worse, because it was terrible for the people that were there, terrible for the people who were impacted by it, but it could have been worse. He was falling directly toward us and seemed to just barely glide past us when he hit the ground.

Had he not pulled out as much as he did, it would have been a whole lot worse.

COOPER: My goodness.

Well, Roland and Karen, I appreciate talking with you.

And it's understandable, Karen, that you're shook up, that both of you would be shook up, a lot of people shook up, even folks just watching this at home. So thank you for talking to us and I wish you well and I'm so glad you are safe.

R. SCHUMANN: Thank you, Anderson. COOPER: All right. We're anticipating again this press conference. We thought it would be in -- well, in the last couple of minutes. We are not sure what the delay is. There is the podium. We are going to bring it to you live. We are told they are waiting for the governor to show up. So, as soon as the governor does come, they are going to brief the governor. Then they're going to have a press conference. We will bring that to you live.

Our coverage continues. We will be right back.


COOPER: If you are just joining us, the breaking news tonight, a plane crash at an air race in Reno, Nevada, reports of mass casualties after a P-51 Mustang plane crashed into a box seat area at the National Championship Air Races and Air Show.

The pilot, Jimmy Leeward, believed to be killed in that crash.

Joining me now on the phone is the mayor of Reno, Bob Cashell.

Mr. Mayor, what is the latest? Do you have any sense of a number of casualties at this point?

Mr. Mayor, it is Anderson Cooper. Can you hear me?

BOB CASHELL, MAYOR OF RENO, NEVADA: Yes, sir. Can you hear me?

COOPER: Yes, sir, I can.

Any -- do you have any sense of casualties or injured at this point?

CASHELL: No, sir, we don't have any report on those at this time. The NTSB is out on the field now going through everything, but we don't have any numbers at this time at all.

COOPER: At this point, has everybody who has been injured, have they been evacuated from the area?

CASHELL: They were all -- everybody that was injured was evacuated. The emergency management teams out here just did an unbelievable job, and everybody was in the hospital in short notice.

COOPER: Were you at the race when it occurred?

CASHELL: No, I just was leaving my office when I heard about it. And the city manager and I and the fire chief and chief of police came out here.

COOPER: Any idea what went wrong?

CASHELL: No, sir, not at this time. I haven't been given anything on that. And I have been looking for it.

COOPER: Do you have a sense of -- it seems like NTSB officials, FAA officials were at the scene. Do you know how many emergency personnel responded? It seems like it must have been a big response.

CASHELL: Oh, we -- we had 700 or 800 emergency people show up in a matter of minutes.

COOPER: A matter of minutes? That's remarkable.

CASHELL: Yes, we did.

It's -- that's what we train on all the time. And you're -- you couldn't believe how fast they came and how the ambulance service -- and then the Air National Guard helped with helicopters, and the ambulance service has helicopters and they were transporting people, and citizens and some of the soldiers that were out here went over and helped with all the patients, all the people that were injured.

And it was just amazing in everything that I have seen, because I was out here in about 20 minutes after it all. And just watching these people and the way they responded was just magnificent.

COOPER: Well, Mayor, I appreciate you being with us. I know it is a busy night for you. We will let you get back to your work. Thank you very much.

CASHELL: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

COOPER: We have got another person who was there an eyewitness, Ben Cissell.

Ben -- what did you see, Ben?

BEN CISSELL, EYEWITNESS: Well, Anderson, to be honest, the gentleman that went before the mayor gave an accurate account, but I had a different vantage point.

COOPER: Where were you?

CISSELL: I was actually right underneath the plane as it was coming in. And I'm getting a little bit emotional talking about it, because it was a horrendous thing to witness.

But I really just want to say this. I think that that pilot, in the last two seconds, pulled up because he saw the bleachers, and I would guess he probably saved two to 300 other people. And I don't mean any disrespect to the injured, but I would consider him to be a hero, because he was going for the bleachers, and he pulled up and did what I think was his best job to hit the tarmac.

COOPER: So explain that for folks who aren't familiar with the layout of this. There are box seats which are kind of more on the field, closer to the race path than the bleachers, right?

CISSELL: Yes. What it was, is there is just your standard bleachers and then there looked to be about a 10- to 12-foot walkway between the bleachers and the boxes. And then about 30 feet from there were boxes. And there's -- probably the boxes were about 12 by 12. And there were tables and chairs. And they were kind of -- each box was divided by a velvet rope. And I would guess -- I was about 100 feet from the crash site, and I would think that the plane hit right at about the middle of those boxes.

COOPER: So, you're saying the last two seconds or so you saw the plane -- you could tell he was trying to -- trying to move the aircraft?

CISSELL: Well, what happened is he came around the last turn into the straightaway. And he had just passed another plane. And I heard the announcers say something like it "Looks like be somebody's gotten off path or off course," and he flew right above us.

And to me, at first, I thought he was just kind of getting out of the race. And then I thought it looked like he was doing some kind of aerobatic trick. And then I realized there was something wrong.

But I would like to say I don't think the plane stalled. The engine stayed on the whole time. But I think the plane kind of nosed down towards the bleachers. And I can't understate enough that it's my belief the pilot saw the bleachers and did everything he could do to avoid the crowd.

COOPER: And after the -- what else -- when the plane crashed, what did you see? What happened?

CISSELL: What happened is the plane hit the tarmac. And there was a big cloud of dust. It wasn't smoke. I didn't see any fire, surprisingly. The plane hit at a very high rate of speed.

COOPER: So that big cloud we're seeing, that's dust?

CISSELL: Yes. I think it's dust, and it dissipated within about five seconds. And we could see that there were a lot of people injured, a lot of people laying on the ground. And there were a lot of people coming over to help, and I want to give a hats off to the emergency crew. I think they did a great job of handling the problem. And they came right in and started working with people right away.

COOPER: And did he have any sense of -- I mean, obviously accurate numbers at this point are very hard to come by, and we haven't wanted to speculate at all, but what did you, yourself, see?

CISSELL: I don't want to speculate on that either.

COOPER: Sure. Fair enough.

CISSELL: I saw just a horrible accident. It was an unbelievable great day up until that point. And you know, I saw a lot of people injured. I saw a lot of people helping other people. But I'm not in a position to speculate at all. We'll leave that to the professionals.

COOPER: Yes. Well, listen, it's good to get everybody's vantage point, because everybody sees things from a different angle. And so Ben, we appreciate talking to you.

CISSELL: Yes. Can I tell you one more thing, Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, of course, Ben.

CISSELL: I can't understate enough that I'm -- I was watching the plane. It's a P-51 Mustang. I'm fan of that aircraft. And I really just want to say that it's by the grace of that I'm talking to you right now. And this pilot saved a lot of people's lives, and I just want to make sure that's in the report. I know that there's people hurt. I know that there's probably people that didn't make it, but this could have been so much worse.

COOPER: Yes. That's a good perspective to have. You said you're a fan of the airplane. What about this airplane makes you a fan? I mean, tell me about this P-51.

CISSELL: Well, it's my opinion that the P-51 helped us win World War II. And you know, it's a great design, great aircraft. It was a beautiful plane flying in the sky. There are few in the race. And so that's what makes me a fan of it.

COOPER: Right.

CISSELL: I think it basically is a good sign of America. It's a great airplane. Helped us win World War II.

COOPER: We're looking at some beautiful pictures of a P-51 right now, Mustang.

CISSELL: Yes, it's a beautiful airplane.

COOPER: Yes, it's really -- especially with the kind of background.

Ben, again, appreciate you being with us. And I'm so glad, as you said, that you were safe today, and as you said, it could have been worse.

I want to take a quick break. We're awaiting a press conference with the governor, FAA officials, NTSB officials, race officials. We've been awaiting this for quite some time now. We anticipate it being within the next few minutes, so stay -- stick around for that.

We're going to take a short break. Our coverage continues.


COOPER: If you're just joining us, we have breaking news tonight, a plane crash at an air show in Reno, Nevada. Reports of mass casualties.

A P-51 Mustang plane crashed into a box seat area at the National Championship Air Races. We are waiting for a press conference that should be starting any minute now in Reno. We're going to bring that to you when it happens.

We're joined once again on the phone by Jim Tillman, a retired airline pilot, and CNN producer Kelly Smoot, who is in Reno, again, also awaiting this press conference.

Jim, so let me -- let's just -- I know you've been listening in both to the eyewitnesses, to the three eyewitnesses that we've talked to, actually four eyewitnesses at this point. Tell us, you know, about your interpretation based on what they said they saw happening with this aircraft.

JIM TILLMAN, RETIRED AIRLINE PILOT (via phone): Well, from what those two Canadian pilots were saying, Anderson, it sounds a lot like it was a high-speed stall.

Most people think of a stall as being just going too slowly for the airplane to maintain altitude, but there is such a thing as a high-speed stall. That is to say that you're asking more of the aerodynamics of the design of the airplane than its aerodynamically capable of performing. So it literally loses its ability to fly as an airplane. It literally becomes something that is out of control. You tighten up your turn a little bit too much, a little bit hot, a little bit fast, and it doesn't take much at that point to lose it.

It sounds like once they said that he was trying to catch up with other aircraft, that he was pushing all he could push. And probably -- this is speculation, absolutely -- it sounds like he looked up and saw that the stands were right there. Now he has really got to tip it around. He doesn't want to be over those stands at this time.

So in bending it around, tightening up that turn a little bit more than what the airplane is able to handle, means that it is possible that you lose your ability to fly the airplane. You literally lose lift. You lose altitude. You lose everything he needs. Starting out so low to the ground so he has no time, no altitude to do anything else for the rest of the correction.

COOPER: Jim, I'm just getting an update from the Reno Regional Medical Center. They received a total of 22 patients, they're saying, from this crash. Nine are in critical condition. Vital signs are unstable, not within normal limits right now. Patients may be unconscious. Indicators are unfavorable at that point for nine people they've received.

Eleven people are in fair condition. They say vital signs are stable, within normal limits. The parent is conscious, may be uncomfortable. Indicators for those 11 favorable. Two are deceased. So at least two fatalities in this. Eleven people are in fair condition, nine in critical condition. That from the local medical center that's received a total of 22 patients.

You know, it's interesting though, Jim, because one of the other eyewitnesses said he didn't think that there was a stall, that the engine continued to run.

TILLMAN: But that has nothing to do with it, Anderson.

COOPER: Oh, really? OK.

TILLMAN: You can have a high-speed stall with full power. Has absolutely nothing to do with it. We're talking about the aerodynamics of the airplane and its ability to fly, based upon literally the basics: how much air is coming over the wing and how much is coming underneath the wing. That's what really makes a difference in whether you're flying or falling.

And if you get to the place -- and another example would be if you are flying straight and level, and all of a sudden, you yank the stick so suddenly that the airplane began to mush. That is to say that the nose was higher than -- the angle of tack was such that you could not sustain flight. You're in a high-speed stall.

And when you do that, everything bad happens. I mean, you are inverted, anything else, because you are literally just -- you're not able to do anything. There's nothing you can do in the cockpit that's going to bring you out of it, unless you have enough altitude and you have a lot of luck and everything else and a lot of skill in order to handle a high-speed stall. But you cannot do that at 3 or 400 feet or anything like the altitude they were flying.

COOPER: And Jim, the last gentleman we talked to said he felt that, in the last two seconds or so, that the pilot saw the bleachers and actually, you know, was able to -- to move the aircraft a little bit away and save more lives. Is that -- that's possible, isn't it?

TILLMAN: I think that he may have had just a little bit more yoke or control stick to utilize. And he realized that he was losing it. And the

COOPER: I think that he may have had just a little bit more yoke or control stick to utilize. And he realized that he was losing it. And he pulled out -- the normal thing is you would pull the lift with all you got left, and when do you that you really do lose it. I mean, there's really nothing -- nothing you can do about that at that point. You cannot -- you cannot turn any more, because you've already overturned the airplane.

And it's complicated. I don't want to get into all the techniques of aerodynamics, but I wanted to tell that you a high-speed stall is something that happens in aviation...


COOPER: Jim, I've got to jump in, Jim, to go to this press conference, live press conference happening right now. Let's listen.

MIKE HOUGHTON, PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL AIR RACES: First of all, our hearts go out to all of the families, the fans, you know, those that were injured today. We are still working on some of those issues, as well, as you can imagine.

The -- a couple other comments. The NTSB is taking over the site, the investigation and the release of specific numbers and different categories. I will say that we had a total of...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty-four. HOUGHTON: ... 54 that were engaged and have injuries. They've all been transported. The hospitals are providing some information as -- as they see fit.

But of those numbers, those are just the ones that are injured and were transported. We do not have a final count as far as the number of deceased.

And the NTSB has -- as I said, they've taken it over, and they will be releasing those numbers as they have them, along with medical examiner. There -- there are some that have been deceased. Some people's status has changed from the time they left the field.

I do want to clarify, clear up one thing, that I missmoke [SIC] -- misspoke and Jimmy Lee would be mad at me. He was only 74. All of his medical records and everything were up to date, spot on, and Jimmy was a very experienced and talented, qualified pilot.

The family process is still moving along, and I'm not certain if they will hold a public memorial. I'm speaking as best I can for knowing the grief that they are going through and knowing them personally that they will probably not want it very public. They will want to come to some personal closure with their friends and other folks. So timing and where, I'm not positive as to what's going to take place.

We are working on getting together a more public memorial that -- actually the air races is doing that. We are all devastated by this tragedy, and we are doing everything we can to move along and communicate and work with the folks that are directly and adversely affected by this.

That's about all I've got for you right now. And I wish I could tell you more. I don't know a whole lot more. I will take some questions if you like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many are in critical condition?

HOUGHTON: I don't have that specific number.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many are confirmed dead?

HOUGHTON: I don't have that specific number that I'm allowed to release.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was the plane flying too close to spectators?

HOUGHTON: No, the plane was flying on its course. Speculation has gone on a different -- a number of different areas as to what took place. Different people see different things, but there appeared to be some air flight problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control. And we all know what the end result was on that.

KELLY SMOOT, CNN PRODUCER: Kelly Smoot from CNN. What does this mean for the air races this year and in years come? HOUGHTON: This year, our board is all in 100 percent concurrence that, in spite of the family's wishes that we continue with the event for this weekend, we are going to choose to close it.

SMOOT: And in years to come what do you think?

HOUGHTON: We will take it one day at a time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You say the NTSB will remain here at the scene. Does that mean that this is going to be closed? Will this be closed to all airport traffic?

HOUGHTON: The airport is closed to all air traffic. We are hopeful to have some information regarding outbound traffic by tomorrow morning. There are a lot of aircraft that are here that would like to leave, no doubt, especially since the event is canceled. So, they are going to remain on site until they finish their work. They are very thorough, and they're going to work at their schedule.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any idea how long? A week? Days?

HOUGHTON: It -- you know, it -- it really depends. I couldn't speak for how long and fast they will work. They're just going to do their job and finish it. They do have somebody coming in from Washington who's a board member, and their team then will lead the communications process as well as the investigative process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You believe this was a mechanical issue?

HOUGHTON: That's what I'm hearing. The best knowledge that we've got, we haven't had a chance to look at or see any photographs in order to begin analyzing. The NTSB is going to capture anything that we've got access to, to specifically try and identify it. What I'm telling you is what hearsay has flown forward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mike, this isn't the first deadly crash at the air races. How has the response tailored to today knowing you guys have been there before?

HOUGHTON: We have had different -- every incident is different. What we try and do each year is to go through a mass casualty exercise as an organization. We do that every two years. And we set up different scenarios that we work on those processes.

From the standpoint of everything that we should have done after the incident took place, Washoe County, Reno, the entire community came together and did a job in the most professional way possible. If you look at the timing numbers, it was incredible. In 62 minutes from the time the incident took place, it was secure. That's remarkable when you look at the level of mass casualty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has the body of the pilot been recovered, removed from the scene?

HOUGHTON: I don't have that information yet, and his wife's asked me the same thing. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I noticed about 45 minutes up, a lot of planes were headed south. So is that coincidental or were planes being told to go someplace else or anything about that?

HOUGHTON: Any planes that were scheduled to come into here, were going to come in were always rerouted and were rerouted, probably, to Tahoe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this the first time a crash has involved spectators?

HOUGHTON: Yes, it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you clarify where exactly the plane hit, what part of the grandstand?

HOUGHTON: It was not in the grandstands. It was on the tarmac, the area where we have box seats. A little bit east of center.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Going forward -- going forward, do you have any idea whether people will remain seated there? Or is that something you'll look at the in the coming year?

HOUGHTON: That's way too far in advance for us to look at.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Talking to the pilots that were also in this heat that maybe were behind, ahead, are they adding any insight into what went on?

HOUGHTON: No, we haven't gotten any feedback from them as of yet, but we are having a meeting with individual race classes tomorrow to discuss a number of these types of issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you talk about what kind of guy Jimmy was, what he meant to the air racing community?

HOUGHTON: He was a close personal friend. Well liked. Jimmy was Jimmy. Great guy. Great family man. Very active in aviation. A member of the board of Experimental Aircraft Association. Did the lot of stunt flying for movies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Had he ever been an airline pilot or a military pilot?

HOUGHTON: I'm not sure of his military background. He was not a commercial pilot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's flown in the races before. Do you know how many years?

HOUGHTON: Since...


HOUGHTON: Seventy-five was his first race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you describe the plane more, what it looked like?

HOUGHTON: Just take a look at the program. It is a P-51 base. It's flown here a number of times in the past and they're repairing the airplane to bring it back this year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have an estimate of how many spectators were here today?

HOUGHTON: You know, I apologize. I haven't gotten that number at all. I haven't had a chance to recap those numbers. It was a very good Friday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many can it hold? How many typically are here?

HOUGHTON: On the grandstands, we can hold 10,000 in our permanent grandstands, another 10,000 in the temporary grandstands, 3 to 400 down in the box seat area. And then numerous counts from -- for two miles along the -- one of the capability of holding 60 to 75,000 people here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Families are scrambling that knew they had family here at the races. Has anyone been reported missing, a chance that that 64 could go up?

HOUGHTON: We have gotten some calls from people around the world. This is an international event. And we want to provide the best possible contact information so we can give them information about people that they're looking for.

Washoe County Emergency Operations Center is establishing a phone number and then I'm kind of hoping that somebody whispers it in my ear very shortly. And we will ask to you please pass that number out in all their reports so that they have a central point now that they can call in that's manned by professionals that are equipped to gather the information and then disseminate the information and work through the emergency process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was the pilot's family here today? Did they witness the crash?

HOUGHTON: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many members of the family were here?

HOUGHTON: I'm not sure how many were here. Jimmy's got a pretty good-sized family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mike, this is a dangerous sport. These planes fly at high speed. Can you talk about the acceptance of the risk that the pilots take when they get in -- get in these planes and fly every year?

HOUGHTON: Every race pilot understands the risks. They are perhaps the best pilots in the entire world. They are most... COOPER: Listening to a press conference, trying to give whatever information they're willing to release. The headline out of this press conference really is that 54 people have been injured in this crash. We do not know the extent of those injuries.

We do know from one of the hospitals -- one of the hospitals had received 22 of those people. Of those, two of them have died. Eleven are in fair condition. And nine are in critical condition.

That was a -- that was a statement from the hospital that's about now an -- an hour and a half old. So again, we don't have an update. We do know two people died of the 22 who went to that one medical center. There are another 32 people who went to other facilities. We do not know the status of those 32 other people.

Also, you just heard that the family of the pilot was -- the pilot, Jim Leeway [SIC], was 74 years old. Some reports earlier said he was 80. He was 74 years old. His family was at the race today, did see the crash.

I'm told we're getting new video just in showing the crash from another angle. Let's take a look at what we see. I'm seeing this for the first time, as you are.

This is -- this looks like the debris after the crash.

Jim -- Jim Tillman, retired airline pilot, joining us. Jim, you were listening to the press conference, as well. Anything you heard out of it that you think is worth mentioning?

TILLMAN: Well, yes and no. I think the thing that, of course, comes to my mind about what it was like in that cockpit. And it sounds -- it has all the characteristics of a high-speed stall.

But there's one other factor that I think your listeners need to know about. You have to realize that this race takes place at just a few feet off the ground. I mean, you're talking 40, 50 feet off the ground, OK? And the speed of the aircraft is pretty close to 500 miles an hour. It's about 400 knots or 50 or whatever else. So you only have microseconds to make any decision about whatever you're going to do.

Just the normal race, without anything going wrong, without any mechanicals, without anything else happening. So, the action time required, the knowledge of -- the expertise in handling an airplane at those speeds that close to the ground is phenomenal.

So from what I understand, it sounds like this pilot did everything he could do, under the circumstances. Maybe he hit a high- speed stall. Maybe he had a mechanical that was part of that whole affair. Who knows? But it does sound like he was working hard to evade the possibility of bringing that airplane into the crowd.

COOPER: Hmm. It is a tragedy for the family of Jim Leeway [SIC] and all those who have been killed and injured. The full number, of course, more will be known in the hour and the days ahead. Jim, I appreciate it. Appreciate all those who we have talked to tonight. On the phone, we've been talking to Jim Tillman, retired airline pilot.

We'll be right back.