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Stunt pilot in Nevada crash built his life around love of flight

By the CNN Wire Staff
Jimmy Leeward worked as a stunt pilot in several films.
Jimmy Leeward worked as a stunt pilot in several films.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Leeward, 74, is presumed dead after the Friday crash
  • He owns Leeward Ranch, a pilot community in Ocala, Florida
  • He once worked as a stunt pilot in movies

Reno, Nevada (CNN) -- A man who once appeared discreetly as a stunt pilot in movies became the center of national attention after a crash at a Nevada air show.

Jimmy Leeward is presumed dead after the Friday crash. The 74-year-old owned Leeward Ranch, a pilot community in Ocala, Florida.

The 500-acre gated community features plane enthusiasts who build custom homes on lots that include hangars. The community has a runway so that people can fly from their homes.

"The vision was to have a variety of great airplanes, a variety of great pilots," Leeward said in a documentary about his ranch.

Witness: Pilot tried to save lives
Pilot talked day before fatal crash
RELATED TOPICS
  • Nevada

"And a place where everybody could really have a lot of fun. I wanted that as part of my vision to be something that was just like my father had in the 1930s."

Leeward started building the community in the 1980s with his sons and it has grown to more than 170 homes. Some residents left condolences on Leeward's Facebook page.

His family also left a message on the page.

"Dear friends, we are deeply saddened by the tragedy at the air race today. Please join us in praying at this time for all the families affected," the message said.

Leeward, was flying a P-51 Mustang in a Reno air race Friday, when he lost control and crashed. Some witnesses are crediting him with using his flying skills to help limit the number of people injured.

'I was ... preparing to die,' witness at Nevada air race crash says

"I think he was trying to do whatever he could right up to the end," said Fred Scholz, a witness. "I could hear the engine ... I thought he was coming in on top of us. Instead, he missed us by about 100 feet and went out into the box area in front of us."

Leeward, a son of a pilot, said that he was raised in airports. He worked as a stunt pilot in several films, including "Amelia" and "The Tuskegee Airmen."

He had been part of the Reno air race since 1975, said Mike Houghton, president of the Reno Air Racing Association.

"He was very active in aviation. He did a lot of stunt flying for movies," he said. "He was a close personal friend. Well liked. Great guy. Great family man."

 
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