EL TORO — Beneath gorgeous blue skies and the contrail designs left by dozens of stunt planes, about 100,000 people attended the first day of the annual Navy Relief Air Show Saturday at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
Authorities expected twice that crowd and double the traffic created by Southern California's largest free show. About 200,000 spectators attended the first day of the 1985 show when traffic flow was snail-like, and during which a private stunt pilot's vintage World War II plane crashed out of the crowd's view.
Instead, cars and recreational vehicles moved at a steady pace through the entrance gates of the sprawling air station Saturday and left after the five-hour event only slightly more slowly, perhaps a first in the show's 36-year history.
And though security was beefed up because of an "increased terrorist threat" after the American air raid on Libya last month, spokesmen for the air station said there were no arrests, incidents or threats of violence.
"I have no idea why the crowd was smaller this year, and I really can't make a speculation," said Capt. Joanne Schilling, a base spokeswoman. "We didn't canvass the crowd; we didn't survey them, so I really can't tell you."
An April 26 air show at Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento was canceled because of concern about a possible terrorist attack. But William A. Bloomer, the commanding general of El Toro air station, decided that this weekend's show must go on.
"I have carefully weighed the pros and cons of having the air show in light of the increased terrorist threat," Bloomer was quoted as saying in Friday's edition of The Flight Jacket, the base newspaper. "It is my decision that we cannot cave in to these threats and live with a siege mentality. We are, of course, taking many extra precautions which I'm sure you would not want me to go into in print."
Other than a few people wearing T-shirts on which a picture of Col. Moammar Kadafi was labeled "America's No. 1 Target," spectators seemed more interested in derring-do, drinking beer and getting a tan than in world politics.
Most turned out to see the famous Blue Angels scream through the air in dazzling displays of precision flying, and many said the show gave them a better time than going to the beach or the movies. After all, the show, which continues today is free.