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LO man, son escape Reno Air Show crash

By CLIFF NEWELL

Staff Reporter

Don Wiggins of Lake Oswego is feeling very lucky today. He is also severely shaken up after barely escaping death in the Reno Air Show plane crash on Friday afternoon.

The official death toll is 11 people killed by a plane that went out of control and crashed into the stands, just a few yards from where Wiggins and his son, Scott,were sitting.

But Wiggins saw so many body parts lying around that he expects the body count to go much higher.

'It was horrific,' Wiggins said. 'The most distressing things were all of the legs lying everywhere. It was like a bomb going off in Afghanistan.

'I've got to think there will be more deaths than the number they've announced so far.'

Nobody had a better view of the tragedy than Wiggins. He and Scott were sitting near the finish line, waiting for the final plane of the day, a modified 251 model of World War II vintage, to complete its run. Wiggins looked up and saw the pilot desperately struggling to control his craft.

'The plane was going 500 miles per hour, and I could see that he was losing control over the grandstand,' Wiggins said. 'The pilot was grabbing the stick and trying to gain control of the plane and get it away from the aluminum stands, which were packed with people.

'A propeller came spinning straight at us and missed us by only 20 yards. My son had the foresight to dive under the bleachers. I dived down to the footwell area. I was afraid of the fire that was going to come. I could feel moisture hitting me. It was fuel from the plane.'

The first thing Wiggins did was yell for his son, who quickly showed up safe and sound. Wiggins then looked upon a stunning scene. It was the deadliest air racing accident in U.S. history.

The Wigginses rushed down to the track infield to lend assistance.

'A man was there who had lost both of his legs, and I tried to put a tourniquet on one of them,' Wiggins said. 'He passed away, so I went to the next one.'

Only fate had kept Wiggins from being a victim. He was supposed to sit in the VIP box, but decided he could see the action better from the grandstand. The plane crashed right where Wiggins should have been sitting.

'I don't know if any of my friends were killed,' Wiggins said.

For more than 15 years Wiggins has gone to the Reno Air Show.

'There's nothing like the thrill of watching World War II aircraft fly by you at incredible speed,' he said. 'This was the first time in history a plane flew into the stands. It was a fluke. I would not hesitate to go back again.'

But right now Wiggins is trying to get over a tragedy.

'I get the shakes every time I talk about it,' he said. 'When I think about the people who passed away, it's just horrific.'