The survivors of Friendswood’s Craig Salerno have filed a $25 million law suit against people involved in the operation of the airplane that crashed at the Reno Air Races, killing Salerno.
Salerno’s widow, Dr. Sezen Altug and her two children are suing Richard L. Shanholtzer, Jr., the Reno Air Racing Association, the estate of deceased pilot James K. Leeward and two other companies.
Attorney Tony Buzbee of Friendswood filed the case today in Colin County, Texas, north of Dallas, where he said modifications were made on the airplane that crashed, killing Salerno, Leeward and nine other people.
More than 70 people were injured in the September 16 accident.
The suit states, “Leeward’s plane, called ‘The Galloping Ghost’, was a former military plane that had undergone major modifications, called ‘extremely radical’ by many, including Leeward himself.”
Shanholtzer is an airplane mechanic who works in Colin County, doing business under the name “Frontier Aviation.”
Among a long list of items, the suit claims the air show management knew “there is a vast difference in the safety of spectators at an air race, versus an air show…(and) did not inform those wishing to purchase tickets, ticket holders, or spectators of this.”
It also states that the air show knew about the increased danger posed by racing the modified airplane.
Buzbee is asking for a jury trial.
Buzbee also made public a letter he sent to Howard Plagans, Investigator In Charge of the crash for the National Transportation Safety Board.
In the letter, he wrote, “As you know, the victims of the Reno air disaster, like my clients, are allowed no participation or voice in the NTSB investigation. We have no other choice than to trust that our government will—without influence—leave no stone unturned, comprehensively look at the facts, and determine all of the factors that lead to the crash.”
He goes on to state that the Reno Air Racing Association, Inc. has been designated as a party to the investigation and “I question what expertise that the Reno Air Racing Association, Inc. can provide to this investigation. I question whether such expertise is not offset by the fact that the Reno Air Association Inc., a private company, has major liability at stake, depending upon the conclusions reached by the investigation.”
Buzbee asks Plagans to reconsider.
Attempts to reach Plagans were not successful.
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, September 16, 2011 in Reno, NV
Aircraft: NORTH AMERICAN/AERO CLASSICS P-51D, registration: N79111
Injuries: 11 Fatal,66 Serious.
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.
On September 16, 2011, about 1626 Pacific daylight time, an experimental North America P-51D, N79111, impacted terrain following a loss of control while maneuvering at Reno Stead Airport, Reno, Nevada. The airplane was registered to Aero-Trans Corp, Ocala, Florida, and operated by the pilot as Race 177 under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The commercial pilot sustained fatal injuries; the airplane sustained substantial damage. Casualties on the ground included 10 fatalities and 74 injured. As of the time of this preliminary report, eight of the injured remain hospitalized, some in critical condition. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and no flight plan had been filed for the local air race flight, which departed from Reno Stead Airport about 10 minutes before the accident.
The airplane was participating in the Reno National Championship Air Races in the last event of the day. The airplane had completed several laps and was in a steep left turn towards the home pylon when, according to photographic evidence, the airplane suddenly banked momentarily to the left before banking to the right, turning away from the race course, and pitching to a steep nose-high attitude. Witnesses reported and photographic evidence indicates that a piece of the airframe separated during these maneuvers. After roll and pitch variations, the airplane descended in an extremely nose-low attitude and collided with the ground in the box seat area near the center of the grandstand seating area.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration examined the wreckage on site. They documented the debris field and identified various components of the airplane’s control system and control surfaces. The wreckage was removed to a secure storage facility for detailed examination at a later date.
The airplane’s ground crew noted that the airplane had a telemetry system that broadcast data to a ground station as well as recorded it to a box on board the airplane. The crew provided the ground station telemetry data, which includes engine parameters and global positioning satellite system data to the NTSB for analysis. The onboard data box, which sustained crush damage, was sent to the NTSB’s Vehicle Recorder laboratory for examination. Investigators recovered pieces of a camera housing and multiple detached memory cards from the airplane’s onboard camera that were in the debris field. The memory cards and numerous still and video image recordings were also sent to the Vehicle Recorders laboratory for evaluation.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Reno Air Race Association are parties to the investigation.