FOB’s lucky escape at Reno

Many of you will have seen the news about the P-51 pilot who sadly crashed at an air show in Reno on September 16th 2011.

One of our old boys, Rick Fenner (Hervey1960 – 1964 – pictured left), was at this air show and, as you can see from his email below to Keith Gilbert, had a lucky escape being just 20-25 feet from the point of impact.

Keith,
Jimmy’s P-51 impacted in Box A-102; we were in Box C-101/2 (we combine the two boxes), so that puts us two rows back – approx 20-25 feet away from the impact.
I watched the whole evolution. Until about 600′ AGL the spinner was pointed directly at us, and had been since about 1200′ AGL. Throttle was full forward, and I concur with this guy’s take on the flight path and control problems. I originally thought it was going behind the grandstands, then it pitched slowly up to point directly at us, stabilised in the vertical with wings at 90 degrees to the box line, and kept coming. At about 400′ AGL I thought “We’re dead”, and knocked Sue and myself flat off our chairs.
Didn’t hear the impact or see the debris field. Think we got knocked cold for a few seconds by the shockwave, as a cold shower of Avgas woke us (me) up. I was soaked, and first thought was “Please God don’t let it ignite!” It didn’t. (There couldn’t have been a “minor fireball”; there was so much vapourised Avgas around that it would have spontaneously combusted and cremated us all.)
When I came to, my buddy Gary was sitting next to me with a broken right leg just above the ankle, a severed foot (not his, fortunately) lying between his legs, and a big piece of alloy lying beside us. We were both covered in fuel, blood and guts.
I looked for Sue and she had crawled about 40′ away, and was signalling that she was all right. Someone was already looking after Gary so I went to her and Gary’s wife Lisa, who were both a mess. An Air Canada pilot who was in the next box was also standing there, shaking in total shock.
Did a RBS (rapid body survey) on all three and found lots of blood and bits but just minor cuts, shallow shrapnel wounds, and contusions. Wrapped them in what jackets I could find, supplemented by the divider curtains from the boxes. Heard Razin call me to do inventory, so we went into the carnage to find our people. It was an abbatoir.
Luckily, we soon accounted for everyone in C-101/2: Gary’s broken leg, Judy’s broken arm and head stitches, some amazing bruises from debris, and everyone had cuts and shrapnel injuries. Coma survived because someone in front of him took the full force of something – the remains were all over Coma’s back. However, thank Magic, everyone was alive and not seriously injured.
Our buddy Col. Jim “Magic” Henderson USAF ran this box until last year, when he died in a training accident at McDill in November. We had his chair and drink in the corner of “Magic’s Voodoo Lounge” and had just drunk a toast of Jeremiah Weed (the fighter pilots’ shooter) to him. Guess we woke him up, because none of us have one iota of doubt that Magic spread his wings over us that day.
I heard later that the P-51 pitched and banked left with about 100′ to go. This manoeuvre moved the nose that 20′ and saved our lives. Well, that and Magic……
That is all. My heart goes out to the friends and families of all those killed and injured in this incident.
Stay safe and well,
Rick.

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