Spectator recalls Reno Air Race crash

By: Victoria Maranan Email
By: Victoria Maranan Email

GRAYSON COUNTY, TX-It was one of the deadliest air show accidents in U.S. history and one north Texas man watched the Reno Air Race crash unfold from just feet away. Our own Victoria Maranan sat down with him and brings us his story.
Burleson resident David Barclay and his friends have been attending the Reno Air Race for eight years. Just before their favorite plane took to the skies, tragedy struck right before their eyes.

"I was actually almost a little bit in shock. I looked straight up on the airplane and I was looking directly down the nose, which meant it was headed directly for me. I kept looking and it looked like it was still headed directly for me so I was pretty scared."

David Barclay and his friends were only a few yards away when they witnessed the crash at the Reno Air Races. Spectators panicked as debris flew all over the stands, Barclay thought he was about to get hit.

"Couple of the guys I was with actually started running for cover. I wasn't sure which way to run, so I just basically ducked and put my hands on my head," he said.

Barclay said that during the race, several planes fly at speeds of more than 500 miles per hour through an eight mile course, but said the pilot went off course seconds before the crash, he knew something was wrong.

"It really looked like it had a really big wiggle, the pilot just lost control a little bit and had to stay in the banked turn going around the entire course just because they're going so fast," he said.

The 1940's model plane dove nose first, plowing through the crowd on the runway, narrowly missing the grandstands where thousands watched. Eleven people were killed, including the pilot.

"It was pretty scary. There were a lot of people torn up about it. It was the worst thing I've ever seen," he said.

The tragedy is fresh in the minds of officials with the North Texas Regional Airport as they prepared to host the annual aerobatics contest this weekend. International Aerobatic Club's safety chairman Steve Johnson said they will monitor pilots' safety even more closely this year.

"If the chief judge or any of the scoring judges see anything that looks dangerous or unsafe, or even if we think the pilot's not keeping up with the airplane like it should, we can call that pilot back down and have them land," he said.

And Airport director Mike Shahan said they will have emergency personnel keeping watch from the ground.

"We have our firemen on duty with additional firemen, E.MT.s, they're all trained E.M.T.s and off trained. They're all here standing by in case something happens," he said.

Johnson of the I.A.C. also said they will monitor pilots from the control towers during the aerobatics contest on Sunday and they are planning to have a safety meeting the day before to make sure they are ready for any emergency situation.

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