Aerobatic hall of fame pilot Eddie Andreini was flying a routine at the Travis Air Force Base. He was attempting a stunt known as an inverted ribbon cut. Something went wrong. Eddie’s Stearman slid upside down along the runway, coming to a stop at show center. His Stearman caught fire. Eddie couldn’t get out. The crowd watched, prayed, and waited for fire trucks to arrive. Some bystanders wanted to rush to the plane to help, but the announcer warned everyone to stay back and “let the firefighters do their job.”
The Andreini family gave their first interview since Eddie’s death to KTVU’s John Sasaki. John asks us about the lawsuit we filed today against the United States Air Force.
Eddie Andreini’s plane slid to a stop at show center and caught fire. Eddie was trapped inside. The crowd watched, prayed, and waited for fire trucks to arrive. Some bystanders wanted to rush to the plane to help Eddie get out, but the announcer warned everyone to stay back and "let the firefighters do their job."
But the firefighters didn’t do their job. By the time the trucks showed up, almost 5 minutes had passed and it was too late. Eddie survived the impact unharmed, but died of burn injuries.
The Travis Air Force base fire trucks were supposed to be positioned at show center so that, in case of a crash, they would have immediate access to the runway. Where were they? Those who were at last year’s "Thunder Over Solano" air show want to know and so does Eddie’s family. But within hours of Eddie’s death the Air Force closed ranks. Since then, it has simply refused to explain itself to anybody.
- The Air Force declined to answer any questions at all from the family in the days and weeks following the accident.
- Though it had by law only 20 days to respond to our formal request under the Freedom of Information Act, the Air Force ignored that deadline altogether and gave us nothing.
- The Air Force had six months to respond to the family’s official claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act. That deadline has also long passed. The Air Force hasn’t offered so much as a phone call in response.
So what is the Air Force hiding?
It looks as though there are three three things the Air Force doesn’t want to talk about.
First, Travis didn’t place its trucks at show center as it was supposed to. Instead, it parked them more than a mile away. 1.3 miles away, to be exact.
Second, Travis brass told the firefighters that, in responding to any fire, they could drive their trucks down the taxiways no faster than 25 miles per hour. That speed limit applied to all the fire trucks, including the Air Force’s so-called "Rapid Intervention Vehicle," designed and built to get to the scene at top speed and start applying foam before the big trucks arrive.
Third, the Travis firemen may not have been in their station and ready to respond like they were supposed to be. Rather, it looks as though they may have been out across the field taking pictures of airplanes parked on the grass.
Today we filed suit against the Air Force on behalf of Eddie’s family. The Air Force has 60 days to respond.
Airport fire trucks must get to a burning plane within three minutes if they are going to save any lives. That’s the maximum response time allowed by the National Fire Protection Association, the organization that sets the standard for airport firefighters, including those working at U.S. Air Force bases.
The survivable atmosphere inside an aircraft fuselage involved in an exterior fuel fire is limited to approximately 3 minutes if the integrity of the airframe is maintained during impact. This time could be substantially reduced if the fuselage is fractured. . . rapid fire control is critical. . .
Aircraft flown in air shows are usually smaller and less fire resistant than transport category aircraft. At air shows fire trucks need to get to crash sites even quicker – within 60 seconds or less.
The key to getting fire trucks to a crash quickly is to station the trucks near to where an accident is most likely to occur. Normally, that might be the end of the active runway. But most air show crashes occur at “show center” rather than the end of the runway. As one Travis Air Force witness put it, show center is where ‘the majority of dangerous events focus.” At air shows, that’s where fire trucks should be waiting.
On May 4, Eddie Andreini was flying a routine at the Travis Air Force Base open house. He was attempting a stunt known as an inverted ribbon cut. Something went wrong. Eddie’s Stearman slid upside down along the runway, coming to a stop at smack dab show center. Eddie was uninjured but was trapped inside. A fire started almost immediately. Air Force personnel say that they saw Eddie struggling to get out as he waited for the fire trucks to save him. One minute passed, then two, then three. But the crash trucks didn’t come. When they finally did, it was too late.
The Air Force refused to explain why it took so long for its fire trucks to reach Eddie. So we sued it under the Freedom of Information Act. We now have internal Air Force documents showing that the brass didn’t understand the Air Force’s own regulations. They mistakenly believed regulations prohibited them from stationing fire trucks near show center. So instead, the Air Force positioned the fire trucks more than a mile and a half away.
The Travis speed limit for fire trucks is 45 mph. So it took the first fire truck (a “Rapid Intervention Vehicle”) more than four minutes to get to Eddie. Had the Air Force positioned even one truck at show center–as it was supposed to–firemen would have gotten to Eddie within a minute and Eddie would have been saved.
Regulations can be confusing. Was the Air Force’s mistake understandable? Not really. The manual that Travis show organizers had in hand–and agreed to follow–makes clear that fire trucks belong at show center. According to that manual, the personnel who were permitted in the “aerobatic box” (the area in which performers fly) included “demonstration teams and fire/rescue.” (Page 28.) The manual goes on to direct that fire trucks should be located “with immediate access to the show line” (page 34) – not a mile and a half away.
To the extent the Air Force brass was confused, the FAA cleared things up for them when, a week before the air show, it told Travis that crash trucks did indeed belong “in the box” near show center.
Our team, specifically the air ops staff, was led to believe that we could not put an emergency vehicle (or anything else) inside the Show Box at Show Center, because it was sterile and protected. We learned that this was not correct about a week before the show after [name redacted] discussed it with [name redacted] of the FAA. We learned that we could place airshow official vehicles or people in the aerobatic box.”
Travis had time
The Air Force’s own documents prove that Travis officials had a week before the show was to begin to correct their mistake and arrange for the trucks to be stationed at show center. But the Travis officials had already decided that the fire trucks were going to be positioned where they couldn’t be of any use to a performer. Having made a plan, they weren’t going to change, even if it put lives at risk unnecessarily.
“I’ll say it again, I need the trucks on the runway! I need the trucks on the runway now!”
The Travis Command Post recording is difficult to listen to. After hearing it, it’s hard to believe that Travis still tells the public that its fire department responded to the crash in an “exemplary” fashion.
(Notes: At 2:14, one of Eddie’s crew tried to fight fire with a hand-held extinguisher. The extinguisher was too small and was expended in seconds. By that time, the Rapid Intervention Vehicle had not yet even left its station. The Air Force documents do not explain why it took so long for the truck to roll. It finally arrives on scene after the 4 minute mark. The time stamps were placed on the photos by Air Force.)
Hall of Fame Aerobatic pilot Eddie Andreini died during the "Thunder Over Solano" air show at Travis Air Force Base in May. There was a mishap during his routine, and his Stearman biplane slid to a stop on the runway. Eddie wasn’t hurt, but he was trapped in the plane. He radio’d for help.
The Air Force had told the performers that its fire trucks would be positioned and ready to respond to such an emergency within seconds. But for some reason, the trucks were nowhere to be found during Eddie’s routine. Instead of getting to Eddie in a minute or less, as they were supposed to, the trucks didn’t get to Eddie for nearly five minutes. By then, Eddie’s plane was engulfed in flames and it was too late. Eddie was gone.
Where were the firetrucks? What took them so long to get to Eddie? When the family asked the Air Force these questions, the Air Force closed ranks and went mum. So the family exercised its rights under the Freedom of Information Act. The family formally requested the Air Force to turn over to them the documents that would show why the Air Force fire trucks didn’t come to Eddie’s aid as it had promised, and instead let Eddie burn to death.
Under the law, the Air Force had 20 days to respond to the family’s request. We had hoped that, out of respect for the family, it would have turned over documents right away. But that was not to be. The family made its request to the Air Force four months ago. Yet the Air Force has yet to turn over to the family even a single piece of paper.
We’ve just filed suit against the Air Force for violating the Freedom of Information Act. We want to know:
- Does the Air Force believe it is above the law?
- Does the Air Force believe that the family has no right to know why Eddie died?
- What is the Air Force trying to hide from Eddie’s family and the public about it’s role in Eddie’s death?