RENO, NV (RNN) - Nine people are dead and six remain in critical condition after Friday's deadly accident at an air show in Reno, NV.
Of the six in critical condition, four are expected to recover while two with head injuries remain tentative.
"Two of those patients have major head injuries and have guarded prognosis. The remaining four are still in the trauma intensive care unit but are expected to do well," Renown Regional Hospital's Chief Trauma Surgeon, Dr. Myron Gomes, said.
A total of 54 injured people were taken to three area hospitals. Seventeen of those are still undergoing treatment while 24 have been released. An additional four walk-in patients arrived at Renown Regional Hospital Saturday afternoon.
Deputy Chief Dave Evans of the Reno Police Department, reported seven people, including the pilot, died on the tarmac when a World War II era plane, a P-51 Mustang, crashed at high speed. Two others died later at area hospitals.
Renown's Medical Director of Emergency Services, Dr. Michael Morkin, said that emergency doctors initially prepared for up to 80 injured.
"The severity of this accident is the worst I've seen since I've been at Renown and I've been here for 16 years," Morkin said.
"There was a variety of injuries, there were several severe head injuries, a number of limb-threatening injuries, some resulting in limb loss, and a number of soft-tissue injuries such as severe facial trauma," Gomes said.
Two of the admitted patients were children. Doctors were unable to confirm anything about their status other than they are not among the six critically injured.
The P-51 Mustang, flown by veteran stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward, was speeding through the race formation when it pulled away from the formation, climbed into an inverted roll then soared into a violent nose dive, nearly disintegrating on impact at the 2011 National Championship Air Races.
The National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, is leading the accident investigation.
"I want to emphasize that this is just the beginning of this accident investigation and the focus now is gather factual information," NTSB board member, Mark R. Rosekind said during a Saturday briefing.
The three NTSB members on site at the time of Leeward's crash has isolated the crash site and walked the scene to identify and process the plane's wreckage, Rosekind said.
Leeward, 74, was an experienced pilot who had been racing airplanes since the 1970's. During his career as a stunt pilot, he worked in movies like The Tuskegee Airmen, Dragonfly, and Amelia.
"He was a close friend of all of us," said Mike Houghton, President of the Reno Air Racing Association. "He worked very hard to compete this year."
Several witness credit Leeward with avoiding a greater tragedy by avoiding the grand stands where hundreds of spectators were seated.
"I don't mean any disrespect to the injured, but I would consider him 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," said Ben Cissell who witnessed Friday's crash.
"Jimmy was a very experienced and talented qualifying pilot," Houghton said, also noting he was medically cleared to fly.
Reno's Renown Hospital reported six patients in critical condition and two patients as deceased.
The crash has prompted the closing of the event, which was scheduled to run through Sunday.
The exact cause of the crash will be unknown until a full investigation has been completed, but several witness have guessed at the cause.
"Speculation has gone to a number of different areas as to what took place. Different people saw different things but there appeared to be a problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control and we know the end result of that," Houghton said.
Aircraft engineer and witness of the crash, David Wilson called Leeward's final flight "abnormal."
"The engineer part of me thinks the aircraft had a flight control fault or the pilot had a heart attack," Wilson said. "Something went wrong, it was an abnormal flight, just went out of control and it happened to be that spot."
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