The sudden tragic loss of a Half Moon Bay stunt pilot and longtime community fixture during a fiery air show crash Sunday has those who knew him mourning the loss of a man they said was a legend.
Eddie Andreini, 77, died flying at Travis Air Force Base in a fiery crash witnessed by nearly 100,000 spectators. Andreini, an antique plane collector and aerobatic pilot, was flying his 1944 Stearman biplane upside down while performing a trick when his plane hit and dragged across the ground before being engulfed in flames.
Andreini was a regular at the 3 Zero Cafe, a decorative airplane-themed pilot hangout nestled by the Half Moon Bay Airport. Mark Smith, a pilot and manager of the cafe, said the loss of the man he looked up to for nearly 37 years has been hard to grasp.
“He was just the kind of guy who loved to share, that’s what he got joy from in life. He was just the life of the party. You knew he was in the room, the personality in the room. Just sweet, nice, easygoing,” Smith said. “Just always loved to have fun. Loved to fly his airplanes. He lived to do that. He was born to do that.”
Andreini had been flying since he was 16 years old and, once someone discovers the thrill of flying, it’s hard to get rid of, Smith said. The accident was unexpected, but Andreini truly died doing what he wholeheartedly loved, Smith said.
Andreini kept several airplanes in Half Moon Bay, including two World War II era planes — a P51 Mustang and a Russian Yak 9, airport manager Gretchen Kelly said.
“The whole airport community is devastated, it’s a huge loss. … He was definitely a pillar of the community and … he was like the patriarch of the airport community,” Kelly said. “He was a really kind man and very generous. His family did a lot for the community. Everybody who knew him liked him, he was just that kind of outgoing personality.”
Half Moon Bay Mayor John Mueller recounted his own childhood when Andreini, who lived in San Gregorio as a kid, would drop in to say hi.
“I think ever since he could get behind the cockpit of a plane, he was one of the first people we knew who was a private pilot, as a kid he would fly over, land in hayfields and stop and visit and see how everyone was. We were always fascinated by that. As things got bigger and bigger and bigger, he really is a world-renowned pilot and performer,” Mueller said.
Mueller said he’d spent the past week or two with Andreini, who owned a local contracting business and was helping him install waterlines on his farm.
“He was just rock solid in this community. Any time you were in need of something, he was a go-to man,” Mueller said. “The last two weeks were pretty special and yet so sad. Because just the other day he was here, looking out his tractor window at me. … That’s what was amazing, he could do a performance somewhere in the world and do these amazing performances, but he could get off and work in a ditch too. The guy was a true renaissance man. He could do anything.”
Andreini also ran an air show business, performed nearly 1,000 times and, in 2013, was inducted into the International Council of Air Shows’ Hall of Fame.
Steven Vasconcellos and George Horbal said they perked up when Andreini would come into the 3 Zero Cafe.
“When you were around Eddie, it was like the room would light up. He’s quite a personable character. It’s a really sad time for everybody, because someone like that doesn’t come along every day,” Vasconcellos said. “That particular stunt, he’d done many, many many times. I’m sure the details will come out as to what happened.”
As a seasoned aerobatic flyer, Andreini “was at the top of his game, highly regarded,” Horbal said. “He was highly skilled and he was a big-hearted kinda guy with a great soul. And I’m very proud to know him.”
Andreini loved to share his love of aviation and was, Smith said, “really the main character at the airport because he was a performer. He did all the stunts on the weekends and had big fancy planes. He was very larger than life.”
Andreini and his family would throw parties at their hangar and he was an integral part of the annual Pacific Coast Dream Machines event at the airport, Smith said.
Tim Beeman, spokesman for Dream Machines, said Andreini and his son were two generous representatives from the Half Moon Bay Pilots Association who helped organize the event that sponsors the Coastside Adult Day Health Center.
Andreini’s fatal crash struck the community exactly one week after another deadly mid-air crash between two pilots over San Pablo Bay who were traveling from Dream Machines. In that case, one pilot was able to perform an emergency landing while the other, 33-year-old David Everett Plumb, was found dead several days later.
Although the circumstances of that crash were very different, Beeman said “it’s really stunning just to have one, but to have two within a week is just mind-boggling.”
Kelly agreed. “It’s not very common and it’s just been devastating for the airport community,” she said.
Mueller said Andreini will be missed by everyone in the community and is leaving behind his wife Linda and his two son’s Eddie Jr. and Mario.
“I hope the legacy for all of us, and for Eddie, if we could just help each other out, just the way he and his family did for so many years, that would be his legacy,” Mueller said. “To always be kind and help others out.”