Tuesday, August 28, 2018

30 Years Since Ramstein

I know what I was doing thirty years ago today. I'm a lucky one. There are others out there who remember what they were doing thirty years ago who weren't as fortunate.

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the Ramstein Air Show Disaster. It held the record for being the worst air show disasters for many years before it was tragically eclipsed in 2002.

I've written about Ramstein in the past. I haven't reread what I wrote, as I wanted to write something today going off my memory from thirty years ago.

During the summer of 1988 - just like in the summer of '87 - I spent three weeks staying with my American relatives who were stationed at an air force base in West Germany. This particular summer saw me go through a skateboard craze. So, we went on a shopping hunt to buy one.

All I can remember from this search for a skateboard is we went from base to base trying to find a decent board in all of the stores.

One of the bases we went to that day was Ramstein. It was definitely August 27th 1988 because, while we had stopped there, we saw planes doing incredible moves in the air above us.

We later found out they were from the Italian Air Force and were practising for an event that was being held at Ramstein the following day.

While watching them train, I noticed they had made a big M in the sky. I told everyone in earshot that it was the McDonald's logo.

Only it wasn't.

Hindsight would correct me the following day in such a tragic way.

I don't remember where I bought the skateboard. It might have been Ramstein. It may have been another base we visited. Either way, we returned home later that day with yours truly in possession of new wheels.

With Saturday in the books, my parents, aunt, uncle and cousins were planning for the following day's adventure. The older generation was keen to go back to Ramstein for the air show. My cousins, sister and myself were given the choice - Ramstein or PhantasiaLand.

PhantasiaLand, for those of you who may not know, is Germany's most popular theme parks. For us kids and teens it wasn't a hard choice. We opted for the  theme park.

We had a fun day out. I rode rollercoasters for the first time in my life, so I have that memory. I also believe it was the first time I had ever tried peanut butter and jelly (jam to us Brits) sandwiches as my cousin had made them for our journey.

While queuing up for one of the rides, a trio of the Italian planes screeched overhead. I didn't think anything of it.

After returning back (I even remember my cousin's boyfriend's car had a punctured tyre on the return journey) we came across one of the children who lived a few doors down from my relatives. He was sitting on his bedroom windowsill and asked us a question.

'Did you go to Ramstein?'

We said no. Didn't think anything more of it. He didn't explain why he asked us.

The following morning, I was up before everyone else other than my uncle who had returned from the night shift. I sat down in the living room and he told me to look at the newspaper.

I picked up the morning edition of The Stars and Stripes newspaper and was surprised at what I saw.

There was collision during the show. This resulted in a number of spectators killed along with a few of the pilots.

The pilots were attempting to make a heart in the sky, but crashed at the bottom part of the heart. Remember what I wrote about earlier in this post where I noted that it looked like they had created an M in the sky? Well, this wasn't the case. It's apparent now - with hindsight - that they were working on the heart, but left the more dangerous part for the day of the show.

As I wrote at the beginning - our families were lucky that day. I feel for those that weren't. Especially today.

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