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Air Show Disowns Fear of German Disaster

Times Staff Writer

If there were any apprehensions left over from the recent Ramstein Air Show disaster in West Germany that claimed 69 lives, they were not apparent here Saturday.

An estimated 65,000 visitors crammed onto the Pacific Missile Test Center Navy Base for the first day of this weekend’s annual Pt. Mugu Air Show, and hardly anyone seemed concerned about safety.

“I don’t think there’s much danger. There was probably more of a chance of an accident driving here on the highway,” said Roy Reel, an interior designer from Pacific Palisades who came to the show with his 9-year-old son, Doug.

Spectators began lining up at the base gates by 6 a.m., 6 1/2 hours before a parachute jump launched the show. Their patience was rewarded with bombing and strafing simulations, parachute jumps, a synchronized “aerial ballet” and aerobatics by planes ranging from gliders to military combat aircraft.

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The enthusiastic crowd saved its loudest cheers for the Navy’s Blue Angels precision flight demonstration team, which roared overhead in a series of intricate maneuvers as a finale to the free 3 1/2-hour display.

Safety has become a major issue at military air shows since the Aug. 28 disaster when three Italian flight demonstration planes collided over the U.S. Air Force base at Ramstein, showering the crowd with flaming debris.

U.S. officials, however, say Federal Aviation Administration regulations covering air shows at bases in the United States--especially rules that require greater separation between the crowds and the flight paths of demonstration planes--preclude the kind of accident that occurred at Ramstein.

The Times recently compiled a list of 115 air show accidents since 1955 at U.S. armed services air shows, publicity flights, demonstration events and practice flights, both in the United States and overseas. Because of record-keeping deficiencies, the actual number of accidents is believed to far exceed that figure.

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Citing such figures, critics charge that the shows are unnecessarily hazardous. On the other hand, military officials stress that these presentations are immensely popular and help recruitment. The Navy estimates that almost 200 million spectators have watched the Blue Angels since the group was formed three decades ago. The Blue Angels describe themselves as pilots, not stunt pilots. “Nothing we fly is considered a stunt,” Jeff Wood said.

The Pt. Mugu air show, scheduled to resume at 12:30 p.m. today, drew a diverse audience, including Dora Proctor, 80, and her friend, Helen Wragg, 76, both of Port Hueneme. “We were going for a walk,” Proctor said. “We decided we might as well walk here.”

And during the long wait Saturday morning, a group of Hare Krishnas wearing “Top Gun” baseball caps and flight jackets snaked between waiting cars in pursuit of contributions.

Others wandered among exhibits that included weaponry and planes dating to World War I. Scores of vendors hawked aviation-related ware. One big seller was a shirt that proclaimed: “Rambo’s An Imitation, a Marine’s the Real Thing.”

The Pt. Mugu show is the first in California since the Ramstein disaster. Two more shows follow later this month--one at Edwards Air Force Base on Oct. 23, the other at Salinas Municipal Airport on the weekend that begins Oct. 28.


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