RENO — Moments after the nation’s deadliest air racing disaster, a sense of calm pervaded.
A souped-up WWII-era P-51 Mustang fighter plane had crashed in Nevada, spraying shrapnel everywhere. Video of the scene showed paramedics, police and spectators attending to the wounded with a control that seems contradictory to the devastation.
Officials and those in the tightly-knit air racing community credit not only a detailed plan for just such a crash, but the type of people at the event: pilots, veterans and others accustomed to dealing with a high-pressure situation.
Doctors, nurses and military veterans from the crowd volunteered their services to emergency crews, authorities said. Those without medical skills helped firefighters transport the injured.
“Everybody pulled together perfectly and worked side by side,” Reno Fire Battalion Chief Tim Spencer said.
The death toll grew Monday to 10, as another injured person died late Sunday, Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Jamii Uboldi said. Authorities said 70 people were treated at hospitals, and that four remained in critical condition.
Among those killed was the pilot, Jimmy Leeward. Officials released the names of two people who died: Regina Bynum, 53, of San Angelo, Texas, and Sharon Stewart, 47, of Reno. Officials have yet to identify three of the dead.
Despite the deaths, the teamwork that prevailed at the National Championship Air Races after the crash helped save lives.
One of them was Ed Larson’s. He was injured when a wall of shrapnel kicked up when the Galloping Ghost crashed into the VIP section Friday, disintegrating over a two- to three-acre area.
Metal fragments and wreckage hit Larson, 59, in the head and back and legs, shredding his calf and severing his Achilles tendon. He was knocked unconscious but came to as he was being loaded on a transport helicopter.
“All I saw was a real coordinated effort,” Larson said from a wheelchair at Renown Regional Medical Center, which handled 36 of the most severely injured patients, including two who died.
The carnage left even seasoned emergency room surgeons and rescue workers shaken.
“This is the worst I’ve seen,” said Dr. Mike Morkin, the emergency services director at Renown. He did his trauma training in Chicago and helped in the aftermath of a hotel fire that killed 19 people in 1993.
Yet he said he had never seen so many patients with such severe injuries at one time.
Paramedics, police and firefighters, hospitals and event organizers had drilled for such a disaster, some just hours earlier.
“This happened so fast, there was just a sense of shock. But people were very calm. You know, they didn’t know me. They came, held my hand, told me I was going to be all right,” said Noah Joraanstad, 25, a commercial airline pilot from Anchorage, Alaska.
“They walked into a scene where people were amputated, whatever, and just carnage everywhere, and they decided to help,” he said. “To me, those were the real heroes.”
Emergency workers were quickly putting into practice the skills they’d learned in drills.
They separated the wounded depending on the severity of injuries as ambulances and transport helicopters moved in. A Vietnam-era Huey helicopter from a military display was pressed into service to fly victims to the hospital.
“It was triage on the tarmac,” said David Edgecomb, 41, a volunteer security guard from Paradise, Calif. Edgecomb cut strips of bunting from the VIP boxes into strips to be used for tourniquets, while larger pieces of the material were used to cover body parts.
The Rev. Thomas Babu was at St. Michael’s Catholic Church four blocks from the airport when he saw the fire engines and ambulances streaming past. “I thought it was my duty to go there,” said Babu, 37.
He held hands and prayed with the family of a woman who had been killed.
“Tragedy brings people together. We become more good human beings when there is something bad happening around us,” he said.
In an interview with a cable news station on Monday, National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said investigators were analyzing the “tremendous amounts of material” collected at the scene and submitted by spectators who photographed and videotaped the crash.
A key focus of the investigation is the tail of the high performance aircraft, which some photos seem to show lost a part before the crash.
“There are a lot of photos of specific aspects of the tail,” Rosekind said. “We have found in the wreckage some parts of tail from the accident aircraft. We have those photos.”
Michael Houghton, president and CEO of the Reno Air Races, said it took 62 minutes to get all of the injured on their way to hospitals, a pace of about one each minute.
“They kind of came in waves,” said Morkin, the Renown hospital ER director. “You’re just running from one patient to the next.”
Some lost limbs, others had severe facial wounds. There were many patients with broken bones or lacerations.
Yet it could have been far worse, officials said as the NTSB investigated what went wrong.
The plane crashed at the edge of the crowd, narrowly missing the grandstand where thousands more people were watching. Spectators were sprayed with aviation fuel, but the plane did not explode, and its fuel did not catch fire.
Ken Liano, a structural engineer and aircraft consultant, was surprised the plane didn’t explode into a fireball, as was the case in a fiery accident a day later at a West Virginia air show that killed the pilot but did not harm spectators.
“I guess God was on the people’s side,” Liano said.