Posted: 2:17 p.m. Sunday, May 4, 2014

Beloved veteran show pilot killed in fiery airshow crash

Travis Air Force Base deadly crash
Photo Courtesy: Ashleigh Carter

By Debora Villalon

TRAVIS AFB, Calif. —

Witnesses to a fatal air show crash at Travis Air Force Base are questioning the speed of the emergency response.

"I ran over and saw it and there was no one there yet," witness Dan Noyer told KTVU, "One gentleman actually had a fire extinguisher and he was trying to put it out himself, just him and two other people."

The pilot, 77-year-old Eddie Andreini of Half Moon Bay, was trapped in the cockpit of his vintage biplane as it burned. He died at the scene, horrifying spectators, who minutes before were watching him perform loops and low passes.

"He was performing a maneuver fairly close to the ground," Col. David Mott explained to a group of reporters, hours after the crash. "He was flying low to cut a ribbon with his aircraft."

The ribbon was stretched across the tarmac, and ideally, the upside-down plane slices through it with its tail.

Photo Gallery: Fiery Crash ends Travis AFB Airshow

Andreini had performed the stunt countless times, and did so without any problem on Saturday, the first day of the show.

Sunday, even the show announcer commented that he looked unusually low, before his cockpit skidded along the ground, with white smoke, then black smoke billowing.

"Everybody just thought it was a stunt," witness Teresa Hernandez told KTVU," they were just looking, until it caught fire and then it was like, "Oh my god".

The "Thunder over Solano" airshow was immediately cancelled, and the crowd of almost 100,000 asked to leave, without seeing the precision Thunderbirds, who were set to fly next. 

Friends of Andreini said he was from Half Moon Bay, from a family with deep roots in the construction trade, and a pilot all of his life. 

"Just the nicest guy in the world," fellow pilot Kent Carlomagno told KTVU. "So generous, he’d take his shirt off for you and loved aviation with a passion. It was the number one thing that he loved in life."

Carlomagno, who often flew airshows with Andreini, wondered if gusting wind might have pushed the biplane into the ground. There is little margin for error with the maneuver. Col. Mott estimated winds at the time at 10-5 knots, or 12-17 mph, typical for the area, and not as strong as Saturday's winds.

"This is something no one wants to have happen," said the Colonel. "Certainly our hearts go out and our condolences go out to the Andreini family and his crew".

"I'd like to think he could have survived if they had been able to get there faster," wondered witness Ashleigh Carter, who was taking pictures about 100 yards from the crash.

"The announcer was saying they've practiced for this, so everybody stay where you are, but everyone in the crowd was saying 'you've practiced for this, but where are you?’"

Witnesses said it took at least five minutes for first responders to get to the plane.

The Air Force said fire and paramedic crews are staged strategically off the runways, but wouldn't elaborate on whether they were delayed. 

"That will be part of the investigation, what I can tell you is the emergency response notification was immediate," concluded Colonel Mott. 

The investigation will be headed by the N.T.S.B. In the meantime, Northern California air buffs have suffered a blow. 

"Eddie was an excellent pilot, one of the best," said Carlomagno, "it's a terrible loss to the aviation community and the airshow community as a whole.”

Anyone with images of the accident is asked to call (707) 424-2000 for further instructions.

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