Tulsa Airplane Mechanic Returns From Fatal Reno Air Races

Tuesday, September 20th 2011, 11:02 am
By: News On 6

Tara Vreeland, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- A Tulsa man returned from Reno Air Races Monday following the fatal crash that left 10 dead. Shad Morris is the chief mechanic for the Miss America, another World War II era plane.

Morris says the racing community is devastated by the crash and the loss of life. He believes they'll come back stronger than ever - for pilot Jimmy Leeward and the fans.

Morris says Jimmy Leeward was a friend. He says he had talked to the legendary pilot that morning about technical data on the Galloping Ghost. He says they were excited that the Galloping Ghost and the Miss America were finally going to race against each other - until the day ended tragically. 

The Miss America has been racing in Reno since 1969.

"Anyone aviation related - it's like the Mecca," Morris said. "If you've not been to Reno, you haven't done it yet."

This was the Miss America's year to challenge the legendary Galloping Ghost piloted by 74-year-old Jimmy Leeward.

"It was basically a really radical airplane really set up for racing. We were really excited to see what it was going to do. Jimmy was excited, his crew, his family," said Shad Morris, Unlimited Air Racing.

The vintage planes reach impressive speeds up to 400 mph as they race wing tip to wing tip around an 8-mile course.

"It's the only time you'll ever see that many World War II era aircraft in one spot at one time," Morris said.

The excitement for the racing heats soon turned to horror.

Shad Morris says he immediately knew something was wrong when the Galloping Ghost shot skyward.

A video shows the plane crashing into the viewer grandstand. Leeward and others were killed. Dozens more were injured.

Morris says it was a freak accident.

"Jimmy's age, the age of the aircraft, had nothing to do with the accident. At all. Zero," the mechanic said.

Morris says he doesn't want to talk about what he saw after the crash.

"Number one, it doesn't matter. Number two, I saw the same thing everybody else did - some more than others," he said.

But he will talk about what he noticed.

"There were people that went right to the accident scene. Most didn't have any medical training. You could tell they were all walks of life. All ages. Everybody did not hesitate, went right into the mess and started helping. That's why we're Americans," he said.

Morris says the racing community is like a family.

He says it helped that they were there for each other to comfort one another. He says they'll keep going and hope to be back racing in Reno next year. That's what Jimmy would have wanted.