FAIRFIELD, Calif. — 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 look at the time it took emergency crews to respond.
Witnesses 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.
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.
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.
Roger Bockrath, a retired photojournalist, was taking pictures of the show and witnessed the crash. He 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.
“He got down too low and hit the tarmac,” Bockrath told The Sacramento Bee. “He skidded about 500 feet and just sat there. The plane was essentially intact, just wrong side down.”
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.
Lynn Lunsford of the FAA said the agency was on site and will be part of the investigating team.
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.