New Picture Shows Pilot Missing on Galloping Ghost Shortly Before Fatal Crash

This newly released photograph has raised concerns that the recent deadly crash at the Nevada air race may have been caused by a defective cockpit seat. The pilot, Jimmy Leeward, should have been seen in the cockpit even if he had passed out in the Galloping Ghost, his vintage WWII-era P-51 mustang.

Ten people were killed and 70 wounded in the horrific crash. The new theory of aviation mechanic J.R. Walker is that the seat slipped back so that Leeward lost control of the plane.

Such accidents raise complex questions of negligence. Flying was historically treated as a strict liability activity and the organizers of the race are the most obvious targets of a lawsuit as well as the estate of the plane owner. While these planes are antiques, they have to meet some minimal standards of airworthiness. If the seat is original, a product liability claim would be difficult. Accidents caused by car antiques can raise the same complexities. On one hand, they are allowed to be driven without all of the protection of modern cars and yet their owners can be sued for accidents. Insurance companies have separate policies for covering antique vehicles and that has been litigation over the scope of such policies as in Sanner v. Zurich-American Ins. Co., 657 So. 2d 252 (1995). In a Lexis/Nexis search, I could not find any case where liability turned on the reduced visibility or capability of antique cars.

The first question will be, if it was a seat malfunction, whether the seat was original or a newer retrofit to explore a product claim. However, even if the seat were new, installation could have been the cause unless there is a foreseeable misuse claim. Usually, counsel would be less interested in the pilot or his estate than “deeper pockets” who can support damages for the scores of injured or killed persons. That would focus attention on the organizer of the event in allowing plane courses to come too close to the stands or not confirming pilot or plane worthiness. It is unclear whether any elements are present in the case.

91 thoughts on “New Picture Shows Pilot Missing on <em>Galloping Ghost</em> Shortly Before Fatal Crash”

  1. As the last remaining member of the team that created the legendary GG iam interested in the investigation. At the Naval Test Ctr, Pax River, MD in the 50s Cdr Tom Galagher experienced a PIO (Pilot Induced Oscillation) It goes divergent real quick and is stopped by releasing the control. I think that is what happeden.

  2. Speaking of twins spinning. I was getting a biennial in a Grumman American GA-7 Cougar. The FAA designated examiner was not really familiar with the Cougar. It has contrarotating props, so there is no critical engine. The rudder is enormous for the size of the airplane. He wanted to check me out on approach to Vmc, so I shut down an engine, feathered the prop and put the other engine balls to the wall. Then pulled the nose up until it was in a full stall. He grabbed for the yoke but I pushed his hand back. He did not realize the Cougar stalls at about 60 Kts and Vmc is about 56 Kts. I thought he was going to need new underwear.

    A doctor came down to Mississippi from Arkansas to moonlight in a local ER. He flew a Beech Baron. He was landing at night and forgot to put the rollers out. Had a prop strike, which killed the engine on one side. Instead of just pulling all the knobs back and let it plop down on the runway, he gave it full throttle for a go around. The plane snapped upside down and that’s the way it hit the runway. He was killed.

    1. OS That is the problem with the light twins for multiengine training is that you cannot do a really good Vmc demo since you stall before you lose rudder effectiveness. The Baron and C-310 and 400 series Cessnas can do a really good Vmc demo. That is why I liked instructing in them. Though you are supposed to not have the prop feathered if you want to do the demo.

      The problem with twins like the Baron and higher Cessna series is that you can do the Vmc demo and should be quite careful about everything, We had one of our instructors killed when he was doing a biennial in the owners Baron. We wondered how the plane crashed since it hit flat and had no forward motion. Then the mystery was solved when the girl friends body was found in the far aft part of the fuselage since she did not have her seatbelt on. We figured out that they were doing a Vmc demonstration and she was looking up between the seats. The pilot was not sharp enough to retard power when he lost control, and our instructor did not get it quick enough. She was thrown back into the aft part of the fuselage, and with the aft CG they could not recover from the spin and it went flat and she could not crawl forward against the spin.

      Another Baron crash involved a friend of mine at Ameriflight at BUR. A woman pilot for another operator was taking off on 26, lost power on one engine, and tried to keep it flying when she still had about 3000′ of runway left. She failed to keep her airspeed, and did the Vmc roll and crashed on the north side of the runway right across from our hangar. My buddy Steve was out on the ramp doing his pre-flight when she crashed. Steve did the decent thing, and ran across the runway, and dove into the fuselage which was in flames at the time. He got her out, and got burned a bit in the process. When he got back to our ramp, the assistant chief pilot called him up to his office and reamed him out for having run across the runway. The Chief had gotten a nasty phone call from the tower chief about one of our pilots running across the runway.

      I was based in OAK, and I met him at the company layover in FAT and he was really worried about his license. I told him that he had nothing to worry about and that the tower chief and Ameriflight chief were in the wrong. The AIRPORT was CLOSED as soon as the crash happened, so it was impossible for him to cross an active runway. I told him that if anybody did anyting to him such as firing him or reprimand or enforcement action, to call a major TV station and give them the story. Then he should take the camera crew with him to confront any fool who did something against him. Let them talk to the public and let the big boys decide who is right.

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