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Ramstein airshow disaster

The only medical emergency standby MEDEVAC helicopter hit by one of the falling aircraft, fatally injuring its pilot, Capt. Kim Strader.
Accident summary
Date August 28, 1988
Type Mid-air collision
Site Ramstein Air Base
West Germany
Total injuries 346 serious (ground)
Total fatalities 70 (including 67 ground)
First aircraft
Type Aermacchi MB-339PAN
Name Callsign "Pony 10"
Operator Frecce Tricolori
Aeronautica Militare
Crew Lt. Col. Ivo Nutarelli (killed)
Second aircraft
Type Aermacchi MB-339PAN
Name Callsign "Pony 1"
Operator Frecce Tricolori
Aeronautica Militare
Crew Lt. Col. Mario Naldini (killed)
Third aircraft
Type Aermacchi MB-339PAN
Name Callsign "Pony 2"
Operator Frecce Tricolori
Aeronautica Militare
Crew Cap. Giorgio Alessio (killed)

The Ramstein airshow disaster was one of the world's deadliest airshow disasters. It took place in front of an audience of about 300,000 people on August 28, 1988, in Ramstein, state of Rheinland-Pfalz, West Germany, near the city of Kaiserslautern at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base airshow Flugtag '88. Sixty-seven spectators and three pilots died, and 346 spectators sustained serious injuries in the resulting explosion and fire.



Ten Aermacchi MB-339 PAN jets from the Italian Air Force display team, Frecce Tricolori, were performing their 'pierced heart' (Italian: Cardioide, German: Durchstochenes Herz) formation. In this formation, two groups of aircraft create a heart shape in front of the audience along the runway. In the completion of the lower tip of the heart, the two groups of planes pass each other parallel to the runway. The heart is then pierced, in the direction towards the audience, by a lone aircraft.

The crash

The mid-air collision took place as the two heart-forming groups passed each other and the heart-piercing aircraft hit them. The piercing aircraft crashed onto the runway and the fuselage and resulting fireball of aviation fuel tumbled into the spectator area, hitting the crowd and coming to rest against a refrigerated trailer being used to dispense ice cream to the various vendor booths in the area. At the same time, one of the damaged aircraft from the heart-forming group crashed into the emergency medical evacuation UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, injuring the pilot, Captain Kim Strader. Captain Strader died weeks later, on September 17, 1988 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, from burns he suffered in the accident.

The pilot of the aircraft that hit the helicopter had ejected, but was killed as he hit the runway before his parachute opened. The third aircraft disintegrated in the collision and parts of it were spread along the runway. After the crash, the remaining aircraft regrouped and landed at Sembach Air Base.


Time Details [1]  
15:40 Start of the Frecce Tricolori
15:44 Collision involving planes Pony 1, Pony 2 and Pony 10
15:46 Fire fighters arrive
15:48 First American ambulance arrives
15:51 First American ambulance helicopter arrives
15:52 Second American ambulance helicopter arrives
15:54 First American ambulance helicopter takes off
16:10 German ambulance helicopter Christoph 5 from Ludwigshafen arrives
16:11 German ambulance helicopter Christoph 16 from Saarbrücken arrives
16:13 10 American and German ambulances arrive
16:28 About 10 - 15 ambulances arrive. 8 medical helicopters (US Air Force, ADAC, SAR) at the scene
16:33 First medical helicopter of the Rettungsflugwacht arrives
16:35 Doctor on emergency call over the radio:
"We are searching for burnt patients that are pulled and transported unaided away from us by the Americans. They told us nobody from them are here no more. Not all the injured people are transported away by helicopter or ambulance. There is total chaos around us and some of the injured are even transported on Pick Up trucks that are not leaving on emergency exit, they are driving beside the drifting visitors. It was a terrible sight to see people with burnt clothes and sagging burnt skin, squirming with pain of transfixed and shocked with pain on these vehicles.
16:40 First low platform trailer for transport of the dead bodies arrives
16:45 Second low platform trailer for transport of the dead bodies arrives
16:47 At that time the German headquarter for emergencies had no clue of the dimensions, obvious by the radio communication:
"Yes, and that is the problem. We don't know yet what had happened, how many injuries and what else. The leading emergency medical did not send any feedback yet. He wants to have a synoptic view first"
17:00 At that time several medics arrive with helicopters. Later they said:
"At the time we arrived shortly after 5:00 there were no injured people no more. We could see that the last badly injured people were loaded into American helicopters. We could see some Pick Up trucks with injured people transporting them away. It was not possible to find an officer in charge, a director of operations or even a contact person [...] so we got to the Johannis hospital in Landstuhl by own initiative. Asking several action forces, paramedics, police officers nobody could name a director of operations. I was asking for a managing paramedic of the operation to coordinate the evacuation. But there was none."
18:05 A ambulance helicopter arrives at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The paramedic said later:
"We found a large number of severely burnt, badly injured people absolutely unaided. [...] When I arrived in Landstuhl, severely burnt people partly lay on wooden planks and no paramedics were there. After I aided an injured person and left her with a hospital nurse that attended us at the flight, I was treating several injured people at the helicopter landing zone at the military hospital and did not see even one American medic there"
18:20 Dead bodies are transported away from the scene with the two platform trucks
18:30 A bus full of injured people arrives in Ludwigshafen (80 km away). A paramedic later said:
"5 severely burnt people were inside the bus. There was no paramedic attending this transport. Just a not German speaking driver unfamiliar with the area, on an odyssey through the town until he was able to find the hospital."

Emergency response

Of the 31 people who died at the scene, 28 had been hit by shrapnel in the form of airplane parts, concertina wire, and debris from items on the ground.[2] Sixteen of the fatalities occurred in the days and weeks after the disaster due to severe burns, the last being the burned and injured pilot from the helicopter.

In total about 500 people had to seek hospital treatment following the event.

The disaster revealed serious shortcomings in the handling of large-scale medical emergencies by German civil and American military authorities and their cooperation. American military did not allow German ambulances to enter the military base and let them help immediately. The rescue work was criticized for lacking efficiency and coordination. The rescue coordination center in Kaiserslautern was unaware of the disaster's scale as much as an hour after its occurrence, although several German Medevac helicopters and ambulances had already arrived on site and left with patients. American helicopters and ambulances provided the quickest and largest capacities for evacuating burn victims, but could not provide or find sufficient capacities for treating them or had difficulties to even find them. More than two hours after the disaster, German paramedics arrived at the Landstuhl U.S. military hospital and found large numbers of severely burned but completely unattended patients. A bus transporting unattended patients arrived at a Ludwigshafen hospital with a specialized burn-victim unit, 80 km from the accident site, nearly three hours after the disaster. The bus driver did not speak German and was unfamiliar with the area. More confusion was added by American military using different standards for intravenous catheters than German paramedics before a single standard was codified in 1995.[3]


Large amounts of video were taken of the accident. Upon completing the cardioid figure, the piercing aircraft (Pony 10) came in too low and too fast at the crossing point with the other two groups (5 aircraft on the left and 4 on the right) completing the heart shaped figure. Lt. Col. Ivo Nutarelli, lead pilot and flying Pony 10, was unable to correct his altitude or slow his speed and collided with the leading airplane (Pony 1) of the left formation, destroying the plane's tail section with the front of his aircraft.[citation needed] Lt. Col. Mario Naldini's plane spiralled out of control, hitting another plane in his formation (Pony 2, piloted by Captain Giorgio Alessio) before crashing onto a taxiway near the runway, destroying a Med-Evac helicopter, fatally injuring the pilot (Captain Kim Strader). The third plane to be involved in the disaster, Pony 2, was severely damaged and crashed onto and beside the runway, exploding in a fireball.

The plane that started the crash, now completely out of control and with the forward section disintegrated following the impact with Pony 1, continued on a ballistic trajectory across the runway. The landing gear came down; it has been suggested that this could have been lowered intentionally as a last second effort by Nutarelli to try and slow his plane down to avoid the impact, but there is no substantial evidence pointing to this and the undercarriage could have been lowered by a number of factors. Pony 10 impacted the ground ahead of the spectator's stands, exploding in a fireball and destroying a police vehicle that had been parked on the "runway" side of the concertina wire that defined the active runway area. The plane continued, cartwheeling for a distance before picking up the three strand concertina wire fence, crossing an emergency access road, slamming into the crowd, and hitting a parked ice cream van. The crash site was considered the "best seats in the house", being centered on the flightline and as close to the airshow as civilian spectators could get. It was the first area in the airshow viewing area that filled up and was very crowded. The entire incident, from collision of the first two planes to the crash into the spectators, took less than 7 seconds, leaving no time for people in the crowd to run away. The low altitude of the maneuver (45 meters above the crowd) also contributed to the short time frame.

References in popular culture

The airshow disaster memorial with the names of the victims

The German band Rammstein is named after the disaster and their self-titled song is a reference to the event.[4]

The disaster was featured on the February 22, 2008, episode of Shockwave on The History Channel.

A similar disaster is portrayed in the German made strategy PC game Emergency: fighters for life

See also


  1. ^ "Die Ramstein Katastrophe". Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  2. ^ Ramstein survivor support group
  3. ^ ISO 10555-1:1995 Sterile, single-use intravascular catheters - Part 1: General requirements
  4. ^ Quote from MTV interview

External links

Coordinates: 49°26′18″N 7°36′13″E / 49.43833°N 7.60361°E / 49.43833; 7.60361

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