RENO, Nevada (Reuters) - Nine people were killed and more than 50 others were injured when a vintage World War Two fighter plane crashed near the grandstand at a Nevada air race, authorities said on Saturday.

Reno Deputy Police Chief Dave Evans said seven people died on the tarmac of Reno Stead Airport following the crash on Friday night.

A total of 54 other people were transported to area hospitals, where two died of their injuries, Evans said.

A team of National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration investigators has descended on the site of the crash at the air race show, where the motto is "fly low, fly fast."

The pilot, Jimmy Leeward, 74, was among those killed when his P-51 Mustang dubbed the "Galloping Ghost" crashed into a box seat area in front of the main grandstand, said Mike Draper, spokesman for the 48th Annual National Championship Air Races, also known as the Reno Air Races.

"It was like a war zone where the box seats were," said Draper.

Dean Davis, an Oregon man who has attended the races for decades, said: "All the people were laying there."

A spokesman for Renown Regional Medical Center said the hospital received 30 patients from the crash and five others were taken to its affiliated Renown South Meadows Medical Center.

Of those 35 patients, 6 were listed in critical condition on Saturday, 2 were in serious condition and five in fair condition. One person was listed in good condition, and others had been discharged.


Proximity to the planes is a draw for the annual race, which advises on its website, "Always remember to fly low, fly fast and turn left."

Draper said the planes sometimes fly at high speeds "about 50 feet off the ground and it's an exciting, exciting sight."

The thrill has been a deadly one on occasion, with the nine deaths on Friday marking 28 people killed in the history of the race flown every year in Reno since 1964, Draper confirmed.

"The Reno Air Racing Association extends its most sincere heartfelt condolences and sympathies to all of those affected by yesterday's tragic events," the association said in a statement.

Mark Hasara of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is a veteran of the Air Force who witnessed the crash. "As soon as I saw his nose pointed at the ground, I knew he wasn't going to recover," Hasara told Reuters.

The Reno Air Races feature planes facing off in multi-lap races at the airfield north of Reno.

Houghton said Leeward, a well-known real estate developer and pilot who maintained an air ranch in Ocala, Florida, was his good friend.

Leeward came from an aviation family as the son of a pilot, and his own sons have also flown planes. He worked as a stunt pilot on a few movies, including the 2002 release "Dragonfly."

The Reno crash was the latest in a spate of fatal air show accidents since August.

Last month, the pilot of an aerobatic airplane died in a fiery crash in front of shocked onlookers at a weekend air show in Kansas City. In Michigan last month a wingwalker at an air show near Detroit plunged about 200 feet to his death as he tried to climb onto a helicopter in midair.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Barbara Goldberg and Ben Miller; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)

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