March 22, 2004

Ramstein Flugtag '88


I first mentioned the Flugtag Airshow disaster here, and have had three military guys who were on the scene find Rocket Jones via Google searches.

I've been doing further research on it, and have discovered that it's still discussed occasionally on internet Newsgroups. I've seen posts in German, Polish, Italian and English in various places. There is even a Yahoo group devoted to the disaster and those affected by it.

I'm hoping to build a web page dedicated to Flugtag, but until I get time to do that, I'm going to post gathered information here. Check the extended entry, and I'll announce updates as they happen.

There are a lot of links I have to put in, so things will be tweaked and added for a while.

If you're a new visitor to Rocket Jones, you can click on the link immediately below ("Light this candle...") to see the rest of this article. You can also click on the little "Flugtag '88" link at the very bottom of this post to see all Flugtag-related articles.

What is Flugtag?

Flugtag, German for "flight day", was the name of the Ramstein AB 'open house'. Like many military bases, they would hold an annual event where the local community is invited to see what goes on. Grand Forks AFB called their's "Friends and Neighbors Day", and I'm sure other bases have catchy little names. There are displays of military equipment (aircraft and tanks and such), and like many of these events, an air show is part of the fun. The air shows feature unusual aircraft (Harrier jump jets doing their hovering act or a helicopter acrobatic team*) and flybys. There might be a demonstration from a precision parachute jumping team. Flugtag was a huge event, and planning for the following year began immediately after the end of one.

In 1988 the Italian acrobatic team Frecce TriColori was scheduled to perform at Flugtag. They had a reputation for putting on a dashing and daring performance.

*I seem to recall a Canadian Precision Helicopter Team called the Dragonflies, but Google doesn't turn up any information. The closest I found was a Dutch team called the Grasshoppers, and even that was scant info.

The Area

The rest of this is from memory as of the mid-1980's. If you know something has changed, please let me know and I'll make note of it.

Ramstein AB is the headquarters for US Air Forces, Europe (USAFE). It's a large base, and there are units from the US Army, and various NATO countries have troops stationed there as well.

Located in the German state of Rhineland-Phalz, in the city of Kaiserslautern (literally: Kaiser's Hunting Lodge), the area boasts the world's largest concentration of Americans not living on US soil. There are lots of little villages and towns dotting the immediate area, and many military installations (Sembach, Einsiedlerhof, Vogelweh, Kapaun, various French kasernes and the US Army Regional Medical Center at Landstuhl).

What Happened?

Briefly, three Italian aircraft collided, and one was headed directly at the crowd watching their performance. This plane plowed into the audience in a gigantic fireball.

This is a photo of the scene as it happened.

A crowd estimated at over 100,000 was at Ramstein that day for the airshow. According to the Ramstein Flugtag '88 Memorial page, there were 70 dead that day and 450 injured.

Posted by Ted at March 22, 2004 01:58 AM
Category: Flugtag '88

I am looking for help!. I was stationed with 2/60- 3/44 ada on ramstein fron april 86 to jan 89 and was standing to the left side off of the access road to the left of the refer van with my exwife I help with rescue efforts but when I applied to support due to ptsd that was diganosed at the va the dav said there was no record of my helping so the will not give me any support for my ptsd. can anyone help?

Posted by: Rod at June 2, 2004 03:28 PM

I was a security policeman assigned to the disaster response force. I was heavily involved in the aftermath, and in fact.... myself, and a guy named Greg Gillmer carried most of the bodies, and loaded them on flatbed to be taken to the temporary morgue set up in a hanger near the MAC terminal. If you watch "Worlds Worst Airshow Disasters" you will see me briefly assisting an injured man on the ground.

Posted by: Scott Jones at July 14, 2004 09:20 PM

My husband and I were stationed at Ramstein. We lived on base. We were at the air show and were just leaving with our small children when all hell broke loose.
Beside the obvious, the other thing that left a lasting impression was how "deathly still" (yes!) the base was that evening. I don't even think there was a breeze. You could feel that something had happened. It was very erie.
Many of us were outside our quarters talking to others and checking on friends. "Big Brother" had shut down the entire phone system with the flip of a switch. Many people had gone up to Landstuhl to donate blood.
And in the days to come, the refridgerated semi-trailers for the bodies; and the many empty/abandoned cars still parked in parking lots and by the side of the road because their owners wouldn't be coming back to drive them home. Indeed, some of their owners would probably never be identified.
Then the stories from those who were there, and actually threw themselves to the ground a split second before a ball of fire roared over the top of them, searing the hair off the back of their arms. Months later, they would still talk about it at high speed. PTSD.
Then there were the stories from those who had to locate, and clean up, the body parts. Months later, they would still be talking about that; trying to get those images out of their minds.
"They" say your life can change in a split second. Anyone at Flugtag '88 Ramstein AB, Germany would tend to agree. I've always found two things to be true: "Timing is everything" and "Everything is a trade-off".
To all of you who lost a loved one, or suffered somehow because of the "timing", God bless you. I hope it has gotten easier somewhere along your journey in the "trade-off".

Posted by: Lynne Brown at March 16, 2005 04:59 AM

Lynne, thanks for sharing your experiences and especially for the good words.

Posted by: Ted at March 16, 2005 05:56 AM

I was there. I was right by where the fire ball that used to be a plane plowed into the crowd. All were in a dais. All didnt know what to do. I remember the injured walking around, the lucky ones with just thier cloths burned off. I remember.

Posted by: wes at May 7, 2005 02:50 PM

I was assigned to the 377 SPG and also was heavilly involved in the aftermath. This is definitely the most traumatic thing I have ever witnessed.
May God bless us all.

Posted by: Todd Trebuna at May 11, 2005 06:17 PM

Like Todd, I was part of the 377 SPG and was also involved with security after the accident. I believe that we were just stationed at Ramstein for a few months. This is the worst, and hopefully last, traumatic experience that I ever want to live through. I think about Flugtag 1988 every on e in a while and get goosebumps. God Bless all of the survivors and everyone who lost a loved one in this horrific incident.

Posted by: Jeff Boam at June 13, 2005 07:15 PM

I remember being there that day and remembering just how crazy some of the flying seemed earlier. A good example was the F-15 that flew over the crowd so low that I still remember looking at the rivets in the aircraft's skin, and the F-16 that "walked" down the length of the runway.

When the crash happened, I saw the planes appear to pass each other with a flash and thought "What a neat trick..." then as the one went down into the beer tent I thought "That was no trick!"

There was a tremendous red fireball that flew up into the air. The event was so dramatic that I accidentally opened the back of my Nikon and exposed the film before rewinding it, which ruined all the photos that I had taken of the event.

I went to see what I could do as I was only about 400 - 500 feet from the impact point, but by the time I made my way close to it was turned away by security when attempting to volunteer. They claimed to have it all under control, and I wasn't about to argue with a line of guys with M-16 rifles out.

Getting off the base was impossible due to traffic, so I made my way back to my work area at the 1964th Comm Group. I hung out there until traffic died down, helped troubleshoot a system problem, and finally got off the base at about 10:00 pm.

Nobody that I know was seriously injured or killed, but an acquaintence was minorly injured by flying debris (found out by seeing him on TV!)

It was an absolutely horrific event that I hope NEVER to see again. To this day I will not go anywhere near any airshow.

I pray for all those injured and the families of those killed. Let's hope that nothing like this happens again!

Posted by: John Mazza at June 20, 2005 09:34 PM

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Posted by: helen at June 1, 2009 12:37 AM
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