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Witnesses: 'Hero' Pilot Tried to Steer Plane Away From Crowd, Saving Lives


"Thank  you Jimmy for saving my life yesterday."

Jimmy Leeward, 74, died Friday when his plane crashed at a Reno air show. (Media credit: Jimmy Leeward/Facebook)

Some witnesses at the Reno air show where a plane plunged into the grandstands Friday are calling the 74-year-old pilot a hero for preventing the crash from being far more deadly.

The pilot, Jimmy Leeward, was killed in the crash, along with at least two bystanders. More than 50 others have been reported injured.

Witnesses said that as the World War II-era plane took a nosedive toward the crowded stands, Leeward pulled up to avoid hitting a wider swath of spectators.

"The way I see it, if he did do something about this, he saved hundreds if not thousands of lives because he was able to veer that plane back toward the tarmac," Johnny Norman, who was at the show, told the Associated Press.

Tim Linville, who watched the race with his two daughters, agreed: "If he wouldn't have pulled up, he would have taken out the entire bleacher section."

Ben Cissell told CNN the plane crashed about 100 feet from where he was seated:

"I think that pilot in the last seconds pulled up because he saw the bleachers and saved about 200 or 300 others," Cissell said.

"I don't mean this as a disrespect to others injured, but that pilot is a hero. He saved a lot of lives today. It could have been much worse."

Kim Fonda said she also saw the plane streaking toward where she was seated in the grandstand.

"I closed my eyes and said I am going to die now," Fonda said. "I was literally preparing to die and then he jerked the plane away and it landed like 25 feet from us. I want his family to know he was a hero."

Many took to Leeward's Facebook page in the hours following the crash to offer their condolences and to thank the pilot for his efforts.

"[T]he last moments of Jimmys life saved many of his fans--we could see him in the cockpit he did a great job saving alot of us! RIP Jimmy and condolances [sic] to his family and those that were involved!" Ralph Hatley wrote.

Dale Ryker wrote that he was at the show and thanked Leeward for saving his life.

"Thank you Jimmy for saving my life yesterday. Your amazing piloting moved your flight path away from my Dad and I in the grandstands. I would be proud to be half the pilot that you were," he said.

"He did what a real hero would do. In the final seconds of his life he gave his all to steer his crippled plane away from the crowds. God Bless him," Daniel Wells wrote.

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