SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The crash of an acrobatic aircraft during an air show at Travis Air Force Base on May 4 came as the pilot made an upside-down pass over the tarmac and “contacted the runway,” then burst into flames within 50 seconds of coming to a stop, federal investigators said in a report released Tuesday.
The preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that after the fire began, it took three to four minutes before firefighting crews arrived to extinguish the blaze. The report makes no conclusions about whether that was an acceptable response time, but spectators have complained that the emergency response took too long and that the pilot may have been able to be saved.
Eddie Andreini, the 77-year-old pilot, had been flying planes for 61 years and executed daredevil acrobatics at nearly 1,000 air shows before he was killed at the “Thunder over Solano” air show.
“According to FAA information, the pilot held single- and multi-engine airplane, and instrument airplane ratings, and was authorized to fly several experimental airplanes,” the NTSB report stated. “His most recent FAA second class medical certificate was issued in June 2013.”
Acquaintances described the Half Moon Bay resident as an expert pilot and leader in his field. He was killed trying to perform a ribbon-cut maneuver, where he flies the 1944-vintage Boeing E75 Stearman biplane upside down.
“The accident occurred during a ‘ribbon-cut maneuver,’ whereby a ribbon was suspended transversely across the runway, between two poles held by ground crew personnel, and situated about 20 feet above the runway,” the NTSB report stated. “The planned maneuver consisted of a total of three passes. The first two passes were to be conducted with the airplane upright, and were not planned to contact the ribbon.
“The final pass was to be conducted inverted, and the airplane would cut the ribbon with its vertical stabilizer. The first two passes were successful, but on the third (inverted, ribbon-cut) pass, the airplane was too high, and did not cut the ribbon. The pilot came around for a fourth pass, and rolled the airplane inverted after aligning with the runway. The airplane contacted the runway prior to reaching the ribbon, slid inverted between the ground crew personnel holding the poles, and came to a stop a few hundred feet beyond them.”
The plane caught fire and quickly burned.
“Preliminary examination of the wreckage indicated that most of the fabric covering on the fuselage was damaged or consumed by fire,” the report found. “The right wing and cockpit furnishings were almost completely consumed by fire, as were some of the aluminum flight control tubes. The left wing and rudder/vertical stabilizer sustained impact deformation, but the cockpit occupiable volume was not compromised by deformation of any surrounding structure.”