ON THE 28TH OF AUGUST 1988, I observed the worst airshow disaster in Europe. The day marks a change in my pathway through life.
It has taken me more than 20 years to gain the perspective needed after a horrific afternoon at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The smell of the incident still lingers with me. I drove one of the support vehicles around the site while helping to mark scorched body parts. The emotional response of the audience remains etched in my memory too. Within a few minutes of the initial impact, the crash zone went from a cacophony of excited observers to a still reverence of a cemetery.
I spent several hours working around the airshow disaster area and then went underground to a command centre where part of my job involved co-ordinating the movement of air evacuation flights for spectators with serious burns. It was during those co-ordination sessions that my path in life changed. I used some creative strokes to generate several C-141 air evacuation missions out of thin air. The methods to redeploy aircrews were not documented in any sorts of operations manual. A few senior officers in the chain of command did not approve of my inventiveness with a communications infrastructure that I had learned to use after years of instructing C-141 aircraft commanders.
I didn't know it at the time, but some of my operational shortcuts invited a spotlight of unwelcome scrutiny on how I worked, inevitably leading to my change of career.
So I feel the end of August as a turning point in my personal life while simultaneously paying my respects to the 72 people who died on 28 August 1988 alongside the main runway of Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Previously: "No Chocolate. It's Flugtag" on InsideView.ie, August 28, 2005.
[Bernie Goldbach served in the US Air Force as a C-141 Instructor Aircraft Commander and Airlift Control Centre Duty Officer.]