Saturday, August 28
Italian Flyers, the Frecce Tricolori Crash during
the Ramstein Air Base Airshow
• 70 Killed
• 450 Injured
• Thousands witness tragedy
• Countless heros
Those of us who witness tragedy often wonder why we were spared and so many others were not.
Maybe...we are left behind to make sure others remember...and to make sure we never forget.
On August 28, (1988) more than 300,000 people gathered at Ramstein US Air Force Base near Frankfurt, West Germany. They had come to watch performances by aerobatic teams, the annual Flug Tag Air Show.
Seven planes were doing a maneuver in the shape of a heart when three of them clipped each others wings.
The result was the worst disaster in Air Show History.
The planes clipped each other.
Two of the planes crashed on the runway. One went hurtling towards the crowd.
As the plane struck the ground it began to catapult into the crowd.
Most people did not even have a chance to run... They just stood staring as the ball of metal and jet fuel headed straight at them.
I was also there that day.
I was stationed at Landstuhl.
I had my four month old son in a stroller and I had taken the day to spend time with my German girlfriends.
This was the first time that they had been on post.
I remember having a bad feeling that day.
Someone made a comment behind me... "One of these planes is going to end up crashing". That statement from a fellow soldier somewhere in the crowd garnered a roll of muttered agreement through the crowd.
We were standing very close to the ice cream van.
I remember thinking that people were being very nice to let us up front with our baby in the stroller.
As the French team flew overhead I had a terrible ominous feeling.
I had to crane my neck as they flew from the air field, over our heads and out of sight behind us.
When the Italian team began to fly so near, I got butterflies in my stomach. I usually would ignore those feelings as just being paranoid and force myself to stay and not 'be stupid'.
I turned to my best friend Christiana. "I don't think they are supposed to fly right over the crowd". I said to her.
"If they had an accident we would not be able to get out of here".
I knew I was not just being paranoid when I looked at Christiana.
Christiana looked at me like she was really scared. "We wouldn't be able to get the stroller out of here. Somebody would trample it", she said.
At that point she removed my son Joshua from the stroller and held him as we turned and started walking towards the barracks. We had a friend who's barrack's were right off of the flight line and, although we knew that we would not be allowed to go into the barracks, especially with the baby, we still headed that way.
I figured my friend would have some idea where we could go to wait for the next bus back to post.
My husband Troy (we weren't married yet) was working that day at the emergency room at LARMC so I could not get a ride from him.
I remember everything like slow motion from that point.
I remember it was so pretty out there.
Just a beautiful day.
My other friends had run off to flirt with GI's and do the things that 20 year old German girls do when they are finally let loose with a bunch of Air Force guys.
I asked Christiana if we should go look for them.
"No, let's just get to the barracks and we'll let the guys go find them.
We got to the front door of the barracks. As I reached my hand down and grabbed the front door, the planes hit. There was screaming.
I still had my hand on the door as the plane hit the crowd. I will never forget that feeling. My entire body was shaking from the blast. It felt like an earthquake. The building was groaning and every glass window was shaking so hard that I thought for sure they would break.
I screamed at Christiana. There wasn't any blast noise really. More like something had hit and sucked all the air away for a minute. I had the sensation that there was ringing in my ears, but I couldn't hear it.
Just intense pressure.
I was yelling as loud as I could to get inside and Christiana couldn't hear me. I felt like my eardrums were going to burst.
We made it inside the door and we were screaming that there was an earthquake. Airmen came running from all over the building, somebody grabbed me and asked if I was Okay.
"The planes just crashed", he said.
"No, I think it's an earthquake"! Sounds crazy now, but somewhere in my mind I knew it COULDN'T be the planes. A plane crash would be loud and this was just heat and pressure.
We found my friend as he was leaving his room to run outside. He grabbed my son and said, "you have to go they called a mass-cal (mass casualty) at LARMC”.
I worked on 1 Delta at LARMC. That is the psyche ward. What the hell good was I going to be in a mass casualty situation?
My friends took Josh and said they would take him back to my girlfriend's house. I had to get on a bus. The Emergency Commander on Ramstein got a bus to carry all soldiers back to LARMC.
When I arrived at the emergency room it was already full of gurneys. It was nearly silent.
I have never witnessed anything like it.
There was a little blond haired girl laying on a gurney, she could not have been more than five. Her burns were so severe that she wasn't even crying. Her eyelids were burned off and she was staring at me and her chest was heaving up and down struggling for breath. The only sound from her was a gurgling as she tried to breath. I don't know if she lived, my husband worked on her, but refuses to discuss it.
At this point I remember almost passing out. My husband came up behind me. "Go see 'So and So' (sorry, can't remember her name), she is in charge of setting up beds”.
I was taken upstairs to an empty ward. The guys were bringing in empty beds and we began putting linen on them.
Some guys were bringing in some other material for burn patients to lay on, they explained to me that this would stop them from sticking to the sheets.
I wish I could remember more... or not.
I don't know... it is like a movie I saw, but kept closing my eye's through the scary parts.
I know what happened, but I can't remember it.
I know it lasted all day, but I can only remember a few scenes here and there.
I don't remember riding in the ambulance. I don't know how I got back to Ramstein. I must have ridden in SOMETHING... yet nothing comes to memory.
I went back to Ramstein and our psych department set up an information center for the people who were waiting to hear news about missing loved ones.
It was in some type of auditorium. It was packed full of crying families. I spoke a little German and I was taking names to compare with the ones coming in from the hospital. I was there a long time, but again, I cannot remember more than one or two things.
I remember sitting with a German grandma and grandpa who were looking for their daughter and granddaughter. I remember sitting and rubbing her back while she was crying and clinging onto me.
I remember at some point passing out Kool-aid in dixie cups.
If I met someone who had gone through a traumatic experience like that and couldn't remember what happened, I would tell them to see a psychiatrist. I, however, don't want to think about it.
This is the first time I've ever written about that day. I was much more traumatized than I realized. I am crying as I write this.
I received a 'Letter of Commendation' from the Air Force Commander for helping set up the Information Center.
My husband, who saved countless lives in the ER that day, did not.
My friend from the barracks was given the task of walking the flight line and picking up body parts the next day, but he did not receive a 'Commendation' either.
I have never read that 'Commendation'. I have seen it only once since we left Germany. I found it when we were in the process of moving... I don't know where it is now.
I don't want to see it. It is just a reminder of how utterly useless I felt on that awful day.
There were many more deserving than I, and if I could give that 'Commendation' to anyone I would have given it to my husband... he was truly a hero that day.
We also lost a good helicopter pilot that day, Lt. Strader, in his UH60 Blackhawk, was there for medical evacuations. One of the planes that crashed on the runway actually came down on the Blackhawk. Lt. Strader was inside of it.
God Bless you and yours.
There are memorial sites devoted to the survivors of Flugtag.
They allow people to narrate their own story of their experience on that day.
I recommend that if you have been effected by this disaster you check out the sites and add your story.
It is a way to get out the terrible memories of that day with others who went through it.
My banner and anime came from
I read the stories of others present that day and added my own to Rocket Jones
Ramstein: 70 Tote bei Flugschau - Flugtag auf dem US-Luftwaffenstützpunkt in Ramstein. Bei strahlendem Wetter drängen sich an diesem Sommertag 300.000 Zuschauer. Es ist der 28. August 1988. Um 15.45 die Katastrophe: Die italienische Kunstflugstaffel "Frecce Tricolori" setzt zu ihrem letzten, besonders spektakulärem Manöver an, dem "durchstoßendem Herz". Dabei fliegt eine einzelne Maschine durch einen Pulk von anderen Maschinen und nähert sich diesen bis auf wenige Meter. So soll es sein - aber an diesem Tag misslingt das waghalsige Kunststück. Einer der Unglücksjets rast als Feuerball auf die Zuschauer. Insgesamt müssen an diesem Tag 70 Menschen sterben, unter ihnen auch viele Kinder und Frauen.
Updated 28 August 2006
I was a nineteen year old new medic when the infamous day occured.
I was going to work at the fire station in Vogleweh when my team leader wanted me to stay at Landstuhl to work at the hospital till 1500. It was a calm day, nothing much going on until the earth rumbling sonic boom hit.
I remember saying that it was a plane breaking the sound barrier or something, nothing bad could happen right?
We got the phone call to get everyone in for the mass cal right away. My teamleader called the barracks and sent a medic over in a PTV to bring in people to work. I stayed in the ER waiting for the first wave of injured to arrive.
Our 66 passenger mercedes bus was already there and filled quickly. It was the first and only time that I had seen this many patients at one moment.
Time froze as the bus showed up with many patients still smoldering, tourniquets on limbs, moaning and groaning, smoke still so thick it was hard to see what was happening.
The first thing that struck me was the smell of burning flesh and the amount of kids and German nationals on the bus.
My job, with all of this going on, was to assess who to take care of first. Everyone seemed like an emergent patient to me, but in a split second we had to take live or die now patients first and leave the expectants to die.
This was a new sensation for me; someone's loved one, child, father ,mother etc. could die as a result of going out and watching an air show and having fun together.
I wanted to save everyone... Now!
My senior medic took over and told me that we can't save everyone but to focus on the one's that can truly be saved versus letting my emotions dictate who gets saved.
I remember thinking airway, breathing, circulation... the abc's of the medical field. Sucking Chest wound emergent now, O2 ,chest tube, IV, amputee tourniquete stable but start IV for blood loss.
Put fires out fluid, fluid, fluid...I learned a lot that day.
In retrospect, I did not realize the enormity of the situation because I was engrossed in the moment. We ran out of supplies, the war crates were opened and used up.... then it happened.
The NATO trucks started comming in with all kinds of supplies and we had to translate the packages to make sure what we were giving was correct. All kinds of helicopters were landing on our open helipad area from different NATO countries as well.
The hospital filled up and we stabilized the new patients and took them back to the different helicopters for transport to surrounding hospitals. I was amazed later to find out that we treated about 400 patients and only around 70 died.
Please don't misunderstand me, I think that loosing one life is a big price to pay... given the circumstance we did one hell of a job... From the flight line triage and treatment to the hospital level care and transport in all areas in between.
I am truly proud to say that I did my best with everyone else involved to save all that could be saved...My unit at the 2nd general hospital in Landstuhl did not receive any awards that day for exceptional treatment under such dire circumstances, but that does not diminish the collective acts of exceptional people rising to the occasion...I was only nineteen at the time, and saw more suffering and death in that short 2-3 hour time frame than most will see in a lifetime.
Having to make the decisions about who gets treated and who goes to our waiting room with an expectant tag still haunts me, but I am here to say that I'll never forget those people that I treated and I hope they are all well...