FAIRFIELD, Calif. (AP) — Investigators trying to determine what caused the crash of a vintage airplane during a stunt at a California air show said Monday they will start by examining the wreckage and ground scars.
Howard Plagens of the National Transportation Safety Board said his team will also review the amount of time it took for emergency crews to respond.
Witness Geoff Arnwine, who attended the show on Sunday with his son, was among the people who said it seemed like a long time before fire crews arrived at the scene of the crash at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield.
Another witness, Roger Bockrath, said nearly 2 1/2 minutes went by before someone appeared with a fire extinguisher. By then, the aircraft was fully enflamed and collapsing from the heat. He said it took a total of five minutes before fire crews arrived.
Arnwine couldn’t say exactly how long it actually took and wondered if the pilot died on impact or from the ensuing fire.
“The people around me were almost screaming,” he said. “What is going on here? Why aren’t they trying to get him out? Where is the fire engine?”
Base spokesman Jim Spellman said crews were dispatched promptly and responded within a minute or two. A hotshot team from the base was among the responders, he said, adding that a person’s sense of time is often disoriented in a moment of crisis.
The crash brought a quick halt to the “Thunder Over Solano” show attended by an estimated 100,000 spectators. No one else was injured.
The Air Force identified the pilot as Edward Andreini, 77, of Half Moon Bay. Federal Aviation Administration records show he was the registered owner of the 1944 Stearman biplane, a World War II-era plane commonly used to train pilots.
Andreini was trying to perform a maneuver known as “cutting a ribbon” where the inverted plane flies close to the ground so a knife attached to it can slice a ribbon, Col. David Mott, 60th Operations Group commander at the base, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The plane, flying low over the tarmac, crashed and caught fire, creating a thick plume of black smoke seen in video.
Bockrath, a retired photojournalist, was taking pictures of the show and said Andreini, flying into a sometimes gusty wind, passed on two attempts at the stunt before trying a third time, when he hit the tarmac and slid to a stop in an open field.
Investigators will review the many videos of the crash they have gathered and also look at environmental factors and the pilot, Plagens said. After the examination of the crash scene, the plane will be taken to a secure location for a more detailed look, he said.
“Right now we’re focusing on the perishable evidence that will leave today,” Plagens said.
Andreini’s website said audiences would be “thrilled at the sight of this huge biplane performing double outside loops, square loops, torque rolls, double snap rolls, and … a heart-stopping, end-over-end tumble maneuver.” The website said he had flown since he was 16.