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Residents Say Air Tragedy Was Disaster Waiting To Happen

August 30, 1988

RAMSTEIN, West Germany (AP) _ For the people of this town near the biggest U.S. air base in Europe, Sunday’s stunt crash was a disaster waiting to happen - and made worse because it was ″just taking risks for a show, not a war.″

″We have an air show every day here,″ Stephanie Antes, 26, said of the warplanes that roar over Ramstein daily from the base. ″But this has to be the last time they it do it for a display.″

More than 24 hours after the tragedy in which three Italian stunt aircraft collided, killing more than 40 people and injuring hundreds as one plowed into the crowd in a ball of flames, Ramstein has gone quiet.

Few people were on the streets Monday evening, the bars were half-empty, and the talk was loaded with resentment.

There was also a strong sense of just being lucky.

Heike Griebhammer, a 20-year-old bar attendant, left the air show just 10 minutes before the crash. Her aunt and a 3-year-old cousin, Sarah Griebhammer, stayed on.

The child was caught on the edge of the ball of flame, but she too was among the lucky ones - her mother scooped her up and the child escaped with a badly singed arm, said Miss Griebhammer.

″I’ve always thought something would happen,″ she said. ″It’s only afterward that you wonder why you went (to the show) at all.″

This town of 8,000 relies heavily on revenues from the sprawling air base about half a mile from Ramstein’s modest business district.

One establishment, the Diebglocker bar, does a brisk business from Ramstein air shows.

But on Sunday afternoon, instead of coming in for a drink and a meal, hundreds of people poured in trying to telephone friends and relatives after the accident.

″It was just terrible,″ said co-owner Helga Pisani. ″It doesn’t matter what it means for the business. We don’t want another show here.″

But her husband, Salvatore Pisani, an Italian who settled in Ramstein 25 years ago, said the shows should go on.

″It was just chance, it was fate,″ said Pisani.

France Hausladen, 74, recalled 25 years of hearing the jets roar overhead since he moved to Ramstein.

″They do it thousands of times and it’s all right. But sooner or later there was going to be a disaster,″ said Hausladen.

″People, thousands of people, want to see these things and nobody makes them go. But it is all so unnecessary.″

Some residents were cynical over the question whether people would lose their enthusiasm for the popular shows.

″There’s a big fuss now, but in six weeks it will probably be forgotten,″ said Uwe Prien, a 28-year-old sign painter who learned of the disaster while driving home from a vacation.

″I almost didn’t want to get here. I just thought, what if it’s my family,″ said Prien. ″My brother was at the show, but he was all right. He was lucky.″

Despite the shock and horror left by the tragedy, few people seemed to have let it affect the good feelings they have about the Americans living next door.

″We don’t resent the Americans. They’ve been here for such a long time. They’re really part of us,″ said Miss Antes. ″This is as bad for them as it is for us.″

″But yesterday, they were just taking risks for a show, not a war,″ she said.

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