Two firefighters on duty at Cuatro Vientos aerodrome when fatal crash occurred

Section chief had complained to superiors about shortages Facility chief says legal minimums were covered

Pilar Álvarez
An emergency medic rushes to the scene of the fatal crash on Sunday at the Cuatro Vientos airport in Madrid.
An emergency medic rushes to the scene of the fatal crash on Sunday at the Cuatro Vientos airport in Madrid. fernando laso poveda

When the control tower at the Cuatro Vientos sounded the alarm at 1.50pm on Sunday after the fatal crash that killed Air Force Captain Ladislao Tejedor, there were just two firefighters on duty at the aerodrome. Staff numbers at the installation, which falls under the remit of Spanish aviation authority AENA, have been slashed by more than half as part of a viability plan approved last November by the Public Works Ministry.

Workers at the aerodrome had warned before Sunday’s accident during an air show that the reduction was a safety risk. One of the fire chiefs at Cuatro Vientos last December sent a letter to aerodrome director, Gerardo Delgado González, and to the aviation security authority calling the cutbacks “barbaric.” The fire deployment at the aerodrome has been reduced from 46 to 21.

“In an emergency, two firefighters are needed to operate the hose and a third to manage the water supply,” the letter read. “If there are only two firefighters, we do not have the minimum required to use a fire truck in emergency situations.”

The International Civil Aviation Organization permits a minimum of two firefighters at public-military airports like Cuatro Vientos, but the service had a complement of three per shift until the cutbacks. AENA refused to answer questions from this newspaper about internal complaints, but said in an email that Cuatro Vientos “more than meets the required measures pertaining to rescues and extinguishing fires.”

At least two firefighters have also taken AENA to task over the trucks they have, which they say do not comply with the service manual of the ICAO — an international regulation. The employees alerted AENA that one is over 15 years old (when the manual states no vehicles of that age should be in service) and cannot reach the minimum speed of 105kmp/h also laid out in the manual. The airports authority again has yet respond.

“I will not be held responsible if I am not able to respond [to an emergency] in time,” one firefighter wrote in an internal email to the director of the aerodrome. Professionals at Cuatro Vientos asked that the airport be removed from operational status while these shortcomings were addressed. Delgado González replied in another email: “The top speed of a fire truck is not a parameter for this service to be non-operational.”

After Sunday’s fatal accident, the main opposition Socialist Party called for Delgado González and AENA chief José Manuel Vargas to appear in Congress. Socialist deputy for Madrid, Rafael Simancas, said: “We would like them to explain what the normal operative complement is and whether or not the regulations have been followed. It would not be responsible to link the accident with the cutbacks in the number of employees, but the debate is there and we want to determine if the forecast cutbacks affect security.”

Tejedor was 35 years old and an experienced pilot, who was flying a vintage Saeta HA-200 trainer jet at a monthly exhibition held at the airport.

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