A Winnipeg family is mourning after a horrific crash during an air race Friday killed a Canadian pilot and his wife as well as eight other people in Reno, Nev.

George Hewitt, 60, and his wife, Wendy, 57, were seated on the tarmac, in the first few rows of VIP box seats, when a Second World War-era plane struck the spot like a missile.

The Hewitts were among the nine spectators killed. Veteran pilot Jimmy Leeward — a 74-year-old veteran racer and Hollywood stunt pilot who was flying the vintage P-51 Mustang — also died.


George Hewitt, a retired pilot, and his wife, Wendy, were killed when a plane taking part in a Reno air race crashed into the ground. ((The Seattle Times))

So far, it isn’t clear what caused Leeward to lose control.

Hewitt's mother, Rose, told CBC News on Monday that getting the news of her son's death was the worst moment of her life.

"I broke down. It was so hard I couldn't stop," she said. "I couldn't stop. He had such a beautiful life."

Hewitt had just retired from a 40-year career as a pilot with Air Canada and recently moved to Reno. He learned to fly as an air cadet in Winnipeg and went to Westwood Collegiate and Red River College.

'I broke down. It was so hard I couldn't stop. I couldn't stop. He had such a beautiful life.' —Rose Hewitt

Wendy Hewitt was from Vancouver, according to Rose, who said her son loved to fly more than anything else and continued to do so after retirement.

"Imagine both of them going together at the same time. What a way to have to go. It's terrible … not fair … not fair," Rose Hewitt said.


Jimmy Leeward, the pilot of the crashed plane, holds a scale model of his P-51 Mustang at his home on Oct. 27, 2010. ((Doug Engle/Associated Press/Star-Banner))

She said her son was an air show enthusiast and was friends with Leeward, who gave the couple the tickets to the Reno show.

"He got the VIP tickets from him, to be at the show, yes." 

The Hewitts had four grown children, all living in British Columbia. Family members have gone to Reno to make arrangements, Rose Hewitt said.

Wendy Hewitt is still officially listed as missing, though presumed dead. She hasn't been identified yet.

Her family is in Reno, trying to find her.

The crash scene revealed the violence of the plane's impact — a crater in the tarmac roughly a metre deep and more than two metres across with debris spread out over about half a hectare.

The plane hit almost 20 metres in front of the leading edge of the grandstand, where thousands were watching the air race.

The crash marked the first time spectators have been killed since the races began 47 years ago in Reno. Twenty pilots, including Leeward, have died in that time, race officials said.

The death toll from Friday's crash reached 10 on Monday, as Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center in Nevada said a male patient had died overnight.

Spokeswoman Jamii Uboldi said she couldn't immediately release the patient's name, age and hometown. One other patient remains in critical condition and five are in serious condition at the hospital in Reno.

Authorities said a total of 70 people were treated at area hospitals.

With files from The Associated Press