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Texas man among 11 dead in Reno air show crash

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011 | 3:57 p.m.

Reno Air Races crash

A P-51 Mustang airplane crashes into the edge of the grandstands at the Reno Air show on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. The World War II-era fighter plane flown by a veteran Hollywood stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward plunged Friday into the edge of the grandstands during the popular air race creating a horrific scene strewn with smoking debris. Launch slideshow »

When 50-year-old Craig Salerno went missing after attending the Reno air races with friends, his wife didn't need DNA testing to confirm her worst fears.

Her husband, the father of their two young children, was sitting in the VIP section where a fighter plane landed in an explosive crash Friday afternoon. Salerno's friend was taken to the hospital with critical injuries. There was no way Salerno, an avid racing pilot there to watch the show, had survived.

"The family knew," said Tony Buzbee, a Salerno family spokesman. "There is no delicate way to say this; the problem was there was no way to confirm he was dead other than DNA testing."

Medical officials confirmed Salerno's death to his wife Monday night, bringing the death toll in what has become the nation's deadliest racing disaster up to at least 11.

A spokesman for the medical examiner's office said investigators have been trying to identify body parts since the Friday afternoon accident at the annual National Championship Air Races. Officials have identified only five of the dead, and family members and friends identified five others.

More than 1,300 people have called a Reno crisis line since the crash, many to report missing race spectators. Officials are trying to track down each missing person but have not released an official missing person count.

A Nevada man who took his 12-year-old to see the racing pilots was also identified Tuesday as among the dead.

Virginia Craik told The Associated Press that her son, 45-year-old John Craik, of Gardnerville, died from injuries sustained in the crash. Her grandson attended the race with his father. She said the boy was not seriously injured and is back in school.

"It's been tough," Virginia Craik said.

James McMichael, 47, of Graham, Wash., was also identified as a victim Tuesday by his mother, Darlene McMichael. She told the AP her son loved airplanes and was survived by his wife and an extensive family.

"Our family has a great faith," she said. "And we feel like things happen for a reason. It doesn't make it easier."

More than 70 people were treated for injuries, some of them life-threatening, in the unexplained crash that also took the life of 74-year-old stunt pilot James Leeward. His WWII-era fighter plane dived into a crowd during the nation's premier aviation competition. Shrapnel sprayed at the fans, cutting off limbs and slicing through skulls.

During the races, planes flew wingtip-to-wingtip as low as 50 feet from the ground. The competitors followed an oval path around pylons, with distances and speeds depending on the class of aircraft. Pilots reached speeds of up to 500 mph.

Leeward was the 20th pilot to die at the races since it began 47 years ago, but Friday's crash was the first where spectators were killed. Some of the injured described being coated in aviation fuel that burned.

Leeward and his team had modified the plane beyond recognition, taking a full 10 feet off the wingspan and cutting the ailerons - the back edges of the wings used to turn the aircraft - by roughly 28 inches.

Leeward was a veteran air racer from Ocala, Fla., who flew in Hollywood films. His father worked in aviation and taught him the trade. He was married with two adult sons. Leeward loved speeding, on the ground or in the air, and had recently taken up racing cars.

The others killed who have been identified were Sharon Stewart, 47, of Reno; Greg Morcom, 47, of Marysville, Wash.; George Hewitt, 60, and Wendy Hewitt, 57, both of Fort Mohave, Ariz.; Michael Wogan, 22, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Regina Bynum, 53, of San Angelo, Texas.

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