TODAY   |  September 17, 2011

Reno crash witness: 'Plane was headed right for us'

TODAY's Lester Holt speaks with a witness who was sitting near the impact zone as a vintage plane fell from the sky at the Reno-Stead Airport on Friday, killing three people.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

LESTER HOLT, co-host: But we do have to begin with the deadly air race crash in Reno , Nevada . More than 200,000 people attend air races each year. Promoters bill the Reno show as a chance to see the world 's fastest motor sport . The planes exceed 500 miles an hour and fly at very low levels. Carolann Campbell was at the air show and Mackenzie Warren is a reporter at our NBC station KRNV . Good morning to both of you. Thanks for being with us.

Ms. CAROLANN CAMPBELL (Air Show Crash Eyewitness): Good morning.

MACKENZIE WARREN reporting: Good morning to you.

HOLT: Carolann , can you tell me where you were sitting in relation to the crash and what you witnessed?

Ms. CAMPBELL: We were in row nine right behind the announcers.

HOLT: And what did you see?

Ms. CAMPBELL: Do you want me to tell you more?

HOLT: Yes. If you could tell us what you saw.

Ms. CAMPBELL: I -- sir, all I can tell you is that plane was headed right for us. I closed my eyes and I still see it coming toward us. There was no way it was not going to hit. And just all of sudden, I don't know if it was the pilot or if it was his copilot, God just put his arms around that plane and it just made a turn and landed in one of the boxes. The pilot was -- I'm sure he did it. If it would've hit the grandstand, it would have been so much worse with all the flying debris and the people that were there. It was bad enough as it is and my heart just goes out to those people. It was horrendous, absolutely horrendous.

HOLT: Yeah. And we see all that debris flying.

Ms. CAMPBELL: But when the plane hit...

HOLT: And we recognize all the people that were sitting there. Mackenzie , I know you got there just a short time after all this happened. What was it like in terms of the response and what did you see in terms of injuries?

WARREN: You know, Lester , it was like seeing walking wounded. It was literally a scene of war. I saw people with pieces of flesh stuck to them, blood splattered, body parts. The debris was scattered for really two football fields is what we're hearing this morning. It was intense. They have triage nurses and doctors on scene as this is a pretty dangerous sport and they just sprung into action. A lot of military do attend the air races, so many people in the crowd were trained to medically treat. People had taken their shirts off, using their clothing as tourniquets, just doing whatever they could to help.

HOLT: Carolann , I know your husband has been going to this race for years and you, in fact, have gone for the last several years. Was there any point that you have ever felt in jeopardy being in the stands, watching this very high speed sport?

Ms. CAMPBELL: Do you mean before or just this past year?

HOLT: Before, in past years. Have you ever been concerned about something like this happening?

Ms. CAMPBELL: Never, never, never. There's never been anything like this. There's always minor little accidents, you know. They're traumatic, but nothing like yesterday. Yesterday was absolutely horrendous. Just horrendous.

HOLT: And when this happened...

Ms. CAMPBELL: I don't know how else to explain it.

HOLT: Yeah. When this happened, what were you -- what were members of the crowd instructed to do and what was the reaction?

Ms. CAMPBELL: We were all just kind of kind of looking up because my husband was looking one way and I was looking another way because I could hear the plane and the lady and gentleman that sit behind us, they come every year, also. They have the same seats and we have the same seats. And she said the same thing when I -- because I just -- I think I jumped up, I wanted to go down and help those people, but of course you can't. You know, you have to stay out of the way.

HOLT: Yeah.

Ms. CAMPBELL: And the lady behind me said, 'I knew it was going to hit us.' And I said, 'I did, too.' And that pilot did an excellent job, just an excellent job of saving lives.

HOLT: Well, I...

Ms. CAMPBELL: If something had to happen...

HOLT: Yeah.

Ms. CAMPBELL: ...he did an excellent job of turning that plane the way he did.

HOLT: Well, I know you're quite shaken by what you saw and I think any of us would have been under the circumstances and we thank you, Carolann Campbell , for taking time and speaking with us this morning. Mackenzie Warren , as well, we appreciate your being with us. Thanks to both of you.