Family files lawsuit alleging slow response time in stunt pilot's death

FAIRFIELD, Calif. (KTVU) - It's been more than 10 months since Bay Area stunt pilot Eddie Andreini crashed his plane in front of thousands of people at Travis Air Force Base.

His family spoke out for the first time since the incident and told KTVU that emergency crews didn't respond fast enough to free their father from his burning plane.

Like many people, they're convinced Andreini should still be alive and flying. On Thursday, they filed a lawsuit in federal court to prove their case.

The 77 year old Andreini was larger than life. "We've always tried to do it like he does it, right? But he's a tough act to follow," Andreini's son, Mario told KTVU.

The Half Moon Bay based businessman and pilot was in the Air Show Hall of Fame and had been wowing crowds for five decades until last May 4th. "(All) I know is he was alive when he hit the ground. He was well. And he wasn't able to get out of the plane. It caught fire," said Mario Andreini.

His sons, speaking out for the first time, say Andreini should still be here. "It's in our minds daily. All day long," said Eddie Andreini, Jr.

They filed a federal lawsuit arguing their father died at the Travis Air Show because of the slow response of fire crews. The first fire vehicle didn't arrive at the scene for four and a half minutes, the next 30 seconds later. "Why? What happened? What went wrong? I just assume there's multiple layers of failure," said Eddie Jr.

Performing an upside down ribbon cutting maneuver in his Stearman biplane, for some reason, he crashed. But it was as gentle a crash as it could have been, as he indicated to his crew.

"Eddie Andreini is in his plane saying ‘I'm fine, I'm not hurt, I need help, get me out. Get me out.' And then he said ‘I still can't get out, where are people, help, I need help.' And then he's saying, ‘I'm on fire, get me out,'" explained family attorney Mike Danko.

Last year, the Solano County Coroner said as much. "He suffered from severe burns, which caused his death," said Solano County Sheriff's Lieutenant, Brad DeWall, speaking for the coroner.

So, why the slow response? Danko received an anonymous letter purportedly from a Travis firefighter saying that other firefighters who should have responded immediately were busy elsewhere.

"From what we understand, the firefighters weren't in the station at all, they were across the field, taking pictures of planes on the grass," he explained.

The Air Force's own documents show that fire and rescue crews should have been ready and stationed adjacent to the flight path.

The Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team was also performing that day. "They have their own rules which Air Force bases must follow. And in those rules it says have trucks ready to go, right at show center, with immediate access to the runway," added Danko.

To make matter worse, since Andreini's death, the family has been trying to get an explanation from the Air Force, even filing a separate lawsuit to get answers, but with no response. Travis officials told KTVU the Pentagon is now handling the matter.

The family's attorney believes the Air Force will respond to the lawsuit, but he expects officials to deny everything.