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Screengrab via Thom Richard/YouTube

Pilot nearly has his head taken off in harrowing runway crash

Warning: Objects in rear view mirror may be closer than they appear.


Austin Powell

Internet Culture

Posted on Sep 21, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 11:17 pm CDT

A pilot narrowly escaped catastrophe after a harrowing crash with another plane on the runway.

Formula 1 racer pilot Thom Richard was gearing up to compete in the 53rd annual Reno National Championship Air Races when he noted that his engine was not running properly. He shut down the engine, opened his canopy, and signaled that he was unable to compete. 

It didn’t work. 

Richard detailed the incident in the summary of the YouTube video.  

The impact was violent and loud. His left leading edge shaved off the top several inches from my vertical and skimmed the turtle-deck without touching until it impacted my right hand holding up the canopy, at well over sixty miles an hour. The left landing gear hit the top of the gull-wing center-section, blowing a hole in the top skin and impacted the rear face of the front spar so hard that it broke the landing gear clean off his airplane. The propeller sliced three evenly spaced gashes about mid span of my right wing, about a foot apart. The right landing gear sheared the wing off just short of the right wingtip. The impact spun me around nearly 180º, like a teacup ride at warp eight. The other aircraft came to rest several hundred feet in front of me with a folded gear, damaged wing and sheared propeller facing the other way as well. 

Three things immediately came to mind. Make yourself as small as possible to avoid further injury until things stop moving. Once the aircraft came to rest, DON’T MOVE! And since I was not on fire, wait for help to arrive. I knew my hand was busted and was not looking forward to removing my glove. But it was more important to make sure I had not been struck in the head or hurt my neck or back. After assessing my situation I realized I did not have any further injuries and proceeded to shut the switches off and assist with un-strapping myself from the wreckage. Help was there very quickly, including my flagman.

Miraculously, neither pilot sustained serious injuries in the crash, though Richard did suffer a “busted up hand.” What’s even more impressive is Richard’s demeanor both on camera, in the immediate aftermath of the video, where he shows genuine concern for the other pilot, and on YouTube, where he acknowledges that he’s “not the slightest bit upset over the accident.” 

“I’ve used up another of my nine lives,” Richard acknowledges, “but why would you have nine unless you plan to use them?… We live, learn and race on.”

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*First Published: Sep 21, 2016, 10:03 am CDT