FAIRFIELD — A plane crashed Sunday during the Thunder Over Solano air expo and open house at Travis Air Force Base, killing the veteran civilian pilot and prompting base officials to end the day’s show and send people home.
Sgt. Rachel Martinez, a spokeswoman for the base, said nobody in attendance was injured in the crash that happened at 2:05 p.m.
Col. David R. Mott, commander of the 60th Operations Group at the base, said the plane was trying to perform a maneuver known as “cutting a ribbon” where it inverts and flies close to the ground so that a knife attached to the plane can slice a ribbon just off the ground.
Angie Giles, a spectator from Antioch, said the plane “flipped over to do a trick and hit the ground and dragged over the ground.”
Green Valley resident Mike Coan was standing next to the show announcer when the plane crashed. He said the pilot had made about three attempts to cut the ribbon. On the fourth try, the plane was flying inverted.
“The wind hit and it went down on the tarmac,” Coan said. “It was pretty sad.”
Chris Burns, also of Green Valley, thought the plane was traveling about 20 feet off the ground before it crashed.
The crash happened within view of a huge crowd. Martinez said organizers estimated that 100,000 people attended the air show Sunday.
Mott confirmed during a 5:30 p.m. press conference that Eddie Andreini, 77, of Half Moon Bay, died when his restored 1944 Stearman biplane crashed during Sunday’s performance. Andreini has been flying since he was 16 and in high school and had 30 years of air show experience, according to his website.
Questions about the emergency response time for firefighters at the base emerged quickly after the crash.
Burns and Coan both said it seemed like at least five minutes before emergency crews got there. The first help to arrive was someone in a small truck with a hand-held fire extinguisher, Coan said.
Fairfield resident Andrea Garcia, who was just arriving at the show with her family when the plane crashed, said there were numerous emergency vehicles immediately on scene. Fairfield Mayor Harry Price was in the distinguished visitor’s area and said responders got to the site as quickly as they could.
Mott said during the Sunday evening press conference that emergency vehicles cannot be stationed on the tarmac during an air show. That’s a requirement to provide a clear safety zone during performances.
Price did not see the actual impact but knew from the crowd’s reaction something had happened.
“There were a lot of audible prayers and silent prayers,” he said.
The base was shut down immediately after the crash with no one was allowed on or off. The announcement came at about 2:20 p.m. that the show was canceled and people were asked to leave. Price said it took him about 45 minutes to get off the base.
The base asks that anyone with photographs or video of the crash to contact base security at 424-2000. The photos and video will be used to investigate the crash.
Andreini was one of numerous aerial performers leading to a headline demonstration by the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds precision flight team. Sunday’s show was the final day of a two-day air show.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Harrower, also a spokesman for the base, said base officials secured the crash site and were focused in the aftermath of the crash on getting the crowd of civilians safely off the base. The Fairfield Police Department shut down the eastbound lanes of Air Base Parkway at Peabody Road to help with traffic control near the base.
The National Transportation Safety Board will head up an investigation and Lynn Lunsford of the Federal Aviation Administration said the FAA is already on site and will be a member of the team.
“No one wants to see an event like this,” Mott said.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr. Brad Stanhope, Glen Faison and The Associated Press contributed to this report.