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Blue Angels’ heralded Valley return a poorly-managed disaster

After weeks of anticipation and buildup, reports out of the Lemoore Air Show suggest that the Blue Angels’ long-awaited San Joaquin Valley return is a traffic-snarled, mismanaged disaster.

Hundreds of cars sat at a standstill stretching for miles down Highway 198 early Saturday afternoon. Many reported waiting several hours before being allowed to turnaround.

Ticket holders were forced to crane their necks out car windows for a chance to see the famous stunt squad perform their signature, thrilling aerial acrobatics.

“We had to watch the 11 a.m. show from the car. Then turned around. Kids are restless,” Elly Chatten wrote on social media.

Disappointed visitors took to Facebook to express their dissatisfaction with Naval Air Station Lemoore’s management of the event.

“This was the most unorganized event I have ever been to,” Frank Harper wrote on the event’s Facebook page. “Hours and hours of sitting at a standstill in traffic with no direction or reasoning. Lemoore should not host this even if they can’t run it right. Extremely disappointing.”

The Blue Angels are scheduled for perform at Fleet Week in San Francisco Bay on Oct. 7.
Steve R. Fujimoto

Others were frustrated with a perceived lack of communication from NAS personnel.

“What a nightmare!” Clarabelle Duarte wrote. “Traffic’s not moving, very disorganized. Cars are turning around. Outside of the base and on grid lock!

“Nobody’s directing or saying anything. Never coming here again! Whoever organized this did not anticipate the crowd and lacked planning.”

With no restrooms and long lines leading into the base, many families could be seen urinating along the side of the snarled roads.

“We were inside the base and people had to urinate on the side of the road — woman, children and men,” Timothy Lips said. “There are no restrooms, not even a Porta Potty.”

Many called for refunds, suggesting that the naval station should have anticipated the turnout and planned accordingly.

“What a waste of money. Can’t even get in because there’s no parking,” MIsty Moo wrote. “Those of us who paid and were turned away need to be given a refund….They basically stole money from us.”

General admission to the air show is free, however VIP “Flight Line Club” tickets are sold for $135 for adults and $85 for children. Assigned seating is also available for $30.

Families who live on the base were also reportedly affected by the influx of traffic and poor coordination.

“NASL needs to do a better job of controlling traffic so those that actually live on base can get home via the housing gate,” Sonia Bailey wrote. “People that do not live on base should not be getting in via the housing gate….This is absurd.”

Military police reportedly told prospective attendees that there was a “two-hour wait” at the station’s main gate due to “higher turnout than anticipated.”

That was little consolation to the hundreds of families who traveled considerable distances to the remote air station.

It’s unclear how many successfully made it into the station’s gates in time for the Angels’ scheduled 2:30 p.m. performance.

Successful attendees said the key is to arrive at NAS before 8 a.m.

“We left Visalia around 8 and had no issues had a great time. My little one loved it!” Melissa Archuleta-Reed wrote. “Thank you to the Lemoore naval base that put on the show and allowed us all to see such talented pilots!

“It was awesome!”

It’s unknown whether NAS will modify policies to ease congestion and streamline parking ahead of Sunday’s performance, the Angels’ last for the year in the Valley.

Gates are set to open at 8 a.m. with the show beginning at 10 a.m.

The Times-Delta has reached out to NAS’ press officer and will update as soon as they respond.

Five Blue Angels’ jets from the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron fly over Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. The squadron’s signature six-jet F/A-18 Hornet Delta Formation, led by Navy Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi, was en route to their next air show in Lancaster, Ca.
Ron Holman