On September 16, 2011, at the Reno Air Races, a North American P-51D Mustang crashed into spectators, killing the pilot and 10 people on the ground and injuring 69 others.
Leeward, 74, and his Mustang, The Galloping Ghost, were in third place and had just rounded pylon number 8 when the airplane abruptly pitched up, rolled inverted, then pitched down.
The aircraft hit the tarmac at over 400 miles per hour, in front of the grandstands in an area containing box seating, and disintegrated.
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The aircraft was named The Galloping Ghost and was flown by James K. “Jimmy” Leeward. It was the fourth-deadliest airshow disaster in U.S. history, following accidents in 1972 and 1951.
Seven people, including the pilot, died at the crash site. Four died later in the hospital
The NTSB thoroughly investigated the extensive modifications made to the airplane. There was evidence of extreme stress on the airframe demonstrated
By buckling of the fuselage aft of the wing and gaps appearing between the fuselage and the canopy during flight
However, the investigation, released in August 2012:
Found that the probable cause of the crash was reused single-use locknuts in the left elevator trim tab system that loosened. This led to a fatigue crack in an attachment screw and allowed the trim tab to flutter.
In Addition, This flutter caused the trim tab link assembly to fail which led to the loss of control of the aircraft. Untested and undocumented modifications to the airplane contributed to the accident.
Particularly, the right trim tab had been fixed in place. Had both trim tabs been operational, the loss of the left trim tab alone may not have caused a loss of control. When the trim tab failed, Leeward experienced 17 g which quickly incapacitated him and likely rendered him unconscious.
Furthermore, In 2012 the NTSB released seven safety recommendations to be applied to future air races. These included course design and layout, pre-race inspections, airworthiness of aircraft modifications
FAA guidance, pilot g-force awareness, and ramp safety.