West Germany suspended military air shows Monday and called on NATO to abandon such stunt flying spectacles after three Italian fighter jets collided and one slammed into a crowd in a fireball, killing at least 45 people.
About 500 people were injured, including dozens who were critically burned by jet fuel, in the accident Sunday at Ramstein U.S. Air Base. Eleven Americans were in critical condition at a U.S. Army hospital in Landstuhl, said Ramstein spokesman Sgt. Eddie Lee.Bodies were charred and clothes burned off victims in what appeared to be the world's worst air show tragedy involving spectators. Many of the dead were children.
Defense Minister Rupert Scholz canceled a military air show scheduled for September and announced Monday that Bonn officials and their NATO allies were suspending any further shows in West Germany.
More than 300,000 people, most of them Americans and West Germans, were watching as the Italian air force team's 10 jets, flying about 180 feet off the ground, intersected over the field from three directions.
Two planes plunged to the ground and a third careened in flames into the crowd, setting off an inferno more than 100 feet high and 100 feet wide. Terrified spectators ran for their lives as the flames scorched scores of people and destroyed buses, trucks and cars.
"Some were missing skin on their arms," said DeeDee Arrington Doke, a reporter for Stars and Stripes, the unofficial U.S. military newspaper. "A lot had black burns."
She said that after the crash "people started crying and screaming. The ones who were stopped were hugging each other and crying like they were saying `What are we going to do?' The ones who were running were screaming."
AFN, the U.S. military radio network, quoted American officials Monday as saying at least 46 people were killed - including the pilots of the three Italian planes - and 500 injured at the base 60 miles southwest of Frankfurt.
Authorities issued no list of dead or injured and said identification of victims would be a lengthy process because many people were badly burned. The nationalities of the dead were not known.
"They've been working throughout the night to identify the bodies. Then the next of kin must be notified," Lee said. He said he did not expect to have a casualty list until Tuesday.
Rudolf Tartter, head of the local West German government district that includes Ramstein, said 45 people were killed. There was no explanation for the discrepancy. "Of those injured, 345 are seriously injured," Tartter said.
"There are many children among the dead and injured," said Kris Kumpf, a medical assistant who treated some victims. "And the worst part of it is, we're still trying to find some of the parents," she told reporters.
A five-member medical team from the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, flew Monday to West Germany to help treat burn victims.
Demonstrators opposed to air shows because of the risk of accidents rallied outside Ramstein as Sunday's show began. After the crash, some federal and local officials demanded an end to the orchestrated aerial stunts.
In Rome Monday, the Italian Defense Ministry said the Italian stunt team involved in the disaster will continue to perform this year but will limit its activities to simple fly-overs. "Future activity will be scheduled according to measures taken to safeguard the safety of the spectators," a ministry statement said.
The Frecce Tricolori unit is based at the Rivolto del Friuli Airport near Udine in northeastern Italy.
Italian Defense Minister Valerio Zanone sent his condolences to Scholz over "the victims and the injured among those who attended the show." He also expressed sorrow over the deaths of the three veteran Italian pilots _ Giorgio Alessio, Ivo Nutarelli and Mario Naldini.
President Francesco Cossiga, Prime Minister Ciriaco De Mita and Pope John Paul II also sent condolence messages to West Germany.
Scholz said Monday that officials will study ways for West Germany and its NATO allies to demonstrate their air forces' abilities to the public without endangering civilians.
"Until suggestions for effective measures are complete, there will not be any more air shows with military aircraft in West Germany, this with the agreement of the air forces of our NATO allies," Scholz announced.
He also said he was banning West German military aircraft from doing stunts like the one that led to Sunday's disaster.
"The events at Ramstein confirm in a really horrible way how dangerous such spectacles are even for civilian observers," said Walter Kolbow, a federal lawmaker for the opposition Social Democratic Party.
Members of the Greens Party called for Scholz's resignation.
At least seven aircraft accidents have occurred involving NATO equipment this year in West Germany. One occurred at a Hanover air show on May 7, when a British military helicopter's rotor blades struck a loading ramp. Two British airmen were killed and 12 spectators injured.
The British Broadcasting Corp. said Sunday's disaster was the worst air show tragedy in terms of spectator deaths. Thirty people died when a jet crashed into a crowd in 1952 at Farnborough, England, the BBC said. Forty-six people, most of them U.S. Army parachutists, died in a helicopter crash at a 1982 air show in Mannheim.