I grew up on three and a half acres nestled on the Northern side of Peavine Mountain in the North Valleys of Reno, Nevada. My front yard overlooked the Red Rock and Stead area where the Reno Air Races take place.
In all of my years of living in the North Valleys, I never actually attended the races. I guess I saw no purpose in going since I watched the show for free every year.
As I young girl, I can recall how excited I was to watch the planes write ”Pepsi” in the sky as I stood waiting for the school bus or the times my ears perked up as I heard the planes come thundering over the Peavine Mountain ridge.
Well, on September 16th, 2011, as I was preparing for a bicycle ride, my boyfriend called and said his boss had just given him 4 free tickets in the box seat area with pit passes. He asked if I was interested in going and I agreed! I was actually very excited!
We arrived at the Stead International Airport around 3 pm, grabbed a few beers, walked around and looked at a few planes, and then headed to our seats (which were pretty close to all the flying action). We watched a few races and some stunt flying. Then the second race we watched started. I eagerly picked a plane which I named “mine” as it flew through the laps. On the third lap, I turned to my left to watch the planes as they were headed through the start/finish line.
I cannot describe in words what I really saw.
A plane had flown over the “deadline” (course line near spectators) and over the crowd in the grandstands. I watched as it flew straight up in the air (to try and recover some say) and then fall backward, coming straight towards the ground!! My brain didn’t want to believe that he was going to crash. I kept thinking and hoping he would do some “stunt” and go straight at the end, avoiding the crash. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I watched in horror as the plane crashed its nose straight into the tarmac and explode into a thousand different pieces. It was like being in a movie, except no amount of 3D could render the image I saw.
As soon as the plane hit the tarmac and started to explode, I wanted to keep watching, but something inside of me said “SHIT!!! We are NOT far away from the impact, there will be pieces of metal shrapnel flying through the air. DUCK!!” So I took cover in my boyfriend’s lap, while he was frozen watching the whole thing.
In a matter of seconds, the plane was in pieces lying on the ground. I stood up, shaking, crying and totally confused. I looked around and all that I saw was disaster; people lying on the ground bleeding, crying, shaking, all of us in awe. I just kept looking over at the initial site crash and asking ‘if we really had just seen that?!’ Five feet in front of us, a woman was getting CPR!! I was trying to stay calm, but seeing that made me really freak out. People were dead or dying and I was lucky enough to NOT have been hit by a SINGLE PIECE OF SHRAPNEL.
After a few moments of shock, my boyfriend and I decided there was nothing we could do. Since we were unharmed physically, we gathered out things and walked to the car. I was in shock and I cannot remember much of what I saw on the way out. I only remember seeing spectators crying, laying on the ground, or covered in blood from injuries or from helping others. On the way home, we must have passed about 30 ambulances and 15 police and fire trucks.
It was the worst crash in the history of the Reno Air Races. I am SO THANKFUL that I walked out of there alive. It was honestly the most terrifying thing that I have ever witnessed.
My heart goes out to all of those who have lost someone or know someone who is in critical condition…it could have easily been me in that place! ♥
And although I consider myself lucky from a near miss with death, I will continue to live each day without fear in my heart. Life is not worth living if you cannot enjoy things in it! I think back to the sounds of the planes thundering by, the words written in the skies, and the adventurous souls who fly those planes…and it makes me thankful for each passing moment and experience. Thank you.