NTSB releases Reno air crash data

The National Transportation Safety Board today released its docket of last September’s P-51 crash at the Reno Air Races that killed the pilot and 10 spectators.

Today’s information release does not contain any conclusions, although most of the evidence released continues to point to a structural problem with the modified airplane.

Still, this assessment from the autopsy of the 74-year-old pilot, Jimmy Leeward, may provide an indication of one of the area’s the NTSB will look at when it holds a final hearing on the investigation.

There was a large amount of ethanol in the pilot’s body, the toxicology report said, and it’s unclear how it got there…

Ethanol, 58 mg/dL, and methanol, 234 mg/dL (or 2.34 mg/ml), were detected in muscle. No other drugs or chemicals were detected in muscle. Carbon monoxide and cyanide were not assayed as blood was not submitted for analysis.

Additional detail regarding the above detected drugs from FAA/CAMI Forensic Toxicology’s WebDrugs (http://jag.cami.jccbi.gov/toxicology/):

Ethanol is produced postmortem in the putrefaction process. Ethanol is also a social drug. It is a central nervous system depressant and after ingestion and absorption is distributed throughout all body tissues and fluids. FAR Section 91.17 (a) prohibits any person from acting or attempting to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft while having 0.040 g/dL (40.0 mg/dL) or more alcohol in the blood.

Methanol is produced postmortem, along with ethanol and other alcohols, in the putrefaction process. Methanol, commonly known as wood alcohol, is metabolized to formaldehyde. If ingested, the toxic and lethal levels of methanol are 10 mg/ml and 150 mg/ml, respectively.

Additional information provided by the NTSB IIC:

The fuel used by the accident aircraft did not contain ethanol or methanol. The accident aircraft had a modified “boil‐off” cooling system that contained methanol. There were alcohol (i.e., ethanol) containing beverages in the box seat area of the viewing stands where the accident aircraft impacted the ground. The accident aircraft accelerometer saturated at greater than 9 +Gz in less than one second during the initial part of the accident sequence.


This 74 year old male accident pilot died of multiple blunt force injuries on September 16, 2011, after the aircraft he was racing crashed into the box seating area killing 10 spectators. During the initial part of the accident sequence, the accident aircraft accelerometer saturated at greater than 9 +Gz in less than one second. His Class 2 medical certificate had been issued 18 months previously with no limitations. No disqualifying medical, psychiatric, drug or alcohol conditions, or medication use were admitted to by the accident pilot or identified by the AME at the time of the examination with the exception of alprostadil (Caverject) used rarely for erectile dysfunction. The AME further noted that the accident pilot seemed to be in good health. The accident pilot did however have hyperlipidemia and an elevated homocysteine level for which he had been prescribed atorvastatin, ezetimibe, aspirin, and Metanx. None of these medications were identified in the postmortem toxicological analysis. Ethanol and methanol were however identified in muscle on postmortem toxicology.

You can find the entire docket here.

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