Image: Mourners at the memorial service for victims of the Reno air crash
Kevin Clifford  /  AP
Mourners attend a memorial service for the victims of the Sept. 16 crash at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev., on Sunday.
updated 9/26/2011 1:21:34 AM ET 2011-09-26T05:21:34

More than 400 people gathered Sunday night to pay their respects to the victims of a deadly crash at an air race and to dedicate a tree that the state's governor said would serve as a reminder of the "shared humanity" of the heroes who responded to the tragedy.

The 74-year-old pilot, Jimmy Leeward, of Ocala, Fla., was among the 11 people killed Sept. 16 in the crash during the National Championship Air Races at Reno-Stead Airport.

Story: NTSB probes broken part in Reno air crash

About 70 spectators also were seriously injured, including some who lost limbs but attended the sunset memorial at a park a few miles from the downtown casino district.

Mayor Bob Cashell said the memorial was important not only to show support for the families of the victims but also for "the community to begin the healing process."

Rabbi Teri Appleby, who was among the clergy that spoke at the interfaith memorial, agreed that the gathering was important for "all of us in Reno and Sparks who are still in shock after this tragedy."

It marked the third time in three months that the community found itself in mourning over a catastrophic event. Five people were killed and 30 were injured in an Amtrak train crash about 60 miles east of Reno in June. Five more died in a shooting at an IHOP restaurant in nearby Carson City on Sept. 6, including three members of the state National Guard unit.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said the oak tree would preserve the memory of one of the most important incidents in the "collective life of a community."

"The accident at the Reno Air Races will not only be remembered for its sense of loss and tragedy," he said.

"It will be remembered because of the way this community responded," he said, through people such as firefighters and doctors, volunteers, those who stood in line to give blood "and those who simply stood and prayed."

"The people of this community responded with a sense of urgency and a demonstration of our shared humanity that will forever make us proud. It is proper we remember that as well," he said.

Cashell read the inscription for the marker with the tree: "Dedicated to the victims and families of the National Championship Air Races and Air Show Tragedy, Friday, Sept. 16, 2011."

Mike Houghton, director of the Reno Air Races Association, said before the service that he was at a loss to describe the public support for the family and friends of the victims.

"I've seen an overwhelming level of emotional unity in this community," Houghton said. "We have all been touched, and it may have been in a small way or a big way, but it is a shared level of shock and grief."

Grief counselors who met with family and friends of the dead and seriously injured said it will take many of them a long time to recover.

"It is a life-changer," said Dr. Jay Jeffers, of Sparks. The practicing psychologist has responded to five disasters in seven years with the American Red Cross, including Hurricane Katrina.

"It changes everything they know in their life up to that point — everything they have ever witnessed or experienced — because suddenly that person is gone now," Jeffers said.

"I saw a lot of denial and anger," he added. "But there were a lot of people feeling just numb."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Plane in Reno crash was modified for speed

  1. Closed captioning of: Plane in Reno crash was modified for speed

    >> now the big story from this weekend. the awful scene in reno, nevada. if you have been to an air show you can imagine the horror in the crowd when this modified world war ii era plane, a p-51, plunged to the ground near where people were sitting. we have exclusive new pictures. fair warning they show the moment of impact, exactly what investigators are now zeroing in on. our report from nbc's george lewis .

    >> reporter: this video provides the closest view yet of the p-51 mustang, a world war ii fighter slamming into the ground. [ screaming ]

    >> reporter: ben cecil in the bleachers with his family shot the video.

    >> to be honest it's hard for me to talk about. there was about one to one and a half seconds he was pointed right at us. i started to flinch and then he pulled up and misses the bleachers.

    >> reporter: the video and earlier released still photos show part of the tail section called a trim tab missing. investigators from the ntsb found it over the weekend. the plane also carried a video camera and flight data recorder . the information stored on memory cards like this one. investigators think they have recovered some of the cards and they are hoping to find useful data. the plane was heavily modified for racing, the wings clipped and the engine souped up for speed. the pilot, 74-year-old jimmy leeward.

    >> i know the speed. i know it will do the speed. the systems aren't proven yet. we think they're going to be okay.

    >> reporter: were they okay? that's one question investigators will try to answer. in the chaos that followed the crash, volunteers rushed in to help. some fuelled up an old huey helicopter on display and flew victims to the hospital.

    >> it was an experience that i don't wish upon anybody. you know what i mean ? i don't wish anybody to ever go through that.

    >> reporter: the ntsb is expected to issue safety recommendations for preventing future tragedies like this one.

Photos: Reno air race crash

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  1. In this combined image, a P-51 Mustang airplane flies upside down and then nosedives right before crashing at the Reno air race on Friday, Sept. 16, in Reno, Nev. The plane plunged into the stands in what one official described as a "mass casualty situation." At least 10 people, including the pilot, were killed and dozens injured in the violent crash. (Tim O'Brien / Grass Valley Union via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. The World War II-era fighter plane nose-dives just over the crowd, moments before impact at the Reno National Championship Air Races. (Courtesy Garret Woodman) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The airplane crashes into the edge of the grandstands during the popular air race creating a horrific scene strewn with smoking debris. (Ward Howes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The plane breaks up upon impact, scattering debris into the crowd on the tarmac. (Ward Howes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A crowd gathers around debris after the crash while ambulances and emergency personnel rush to the scene. (Tim O'Brien / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Medics help injured bystanders out of a helicopter into Renown Medical Center following the plane crash. (Liz Margerum / The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Debris from the plane is scattered at the Stead airport. (Andy Barron / The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Bystanders embrace after watching the horror unfold. Witnesses said the plane spiraled suddenly out of control and appeared to disintegrate upon impact. (Cathleen Allison / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Long-time Reno Air Race pilot Jimmy Leeward with his P51 Mustang on Sept. 15, 2010. The plane that crashed into a box seat area at the front of the grandstand was piloted by Leeward who was killed in the crash. (Marilyn Newton / The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Two NTSB officials look at wreckage from Jimmy Leeward's plane, Sunday, Sept. 18. Officials say ten people died. (/National Traffic Safety Board via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Patient Ed Larson gestures during a new conference at a hospital in Reno, Nev., Sunday, Sept. 18 about the how the plane crash happened in front of him. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A model plane lies among candles at a memorial near the entrance of an airport in Reno, Nev., Monday, Sept. 19, where the Reno Air Races were held. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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