First-responders were put to the test Saturday morning during a disaster preparedness drill at Midland International Airport.
"Everything worked really smooth," said Justin Millican, Airport Operations Control Center manager, about the teamwork of the inter-agency task force.
The task force, which involved 16 local and state agencies, simulated a crash of a fictitious airline's Boeing 737 carrying 135 passengers and five crew members. As the aircraft takes off on Runway 10, the right engine fails because of a structural malfunction. While the pilot attempts to return to the airport, a large piece of engine debris strikes the left main landing gear. The damaged gear collapses upon landing and the 737 slides across the airfield, coming to a rest at the intersection of Runway 16L/34R and Runway 4/22, according to briefing materials.
Millican explained the procedure on the tarmac. First-responders were only one phase in the process; hospital staff and airport administration also would play an integral role in the disaster response. The main goal of the exercise -- in addition to maintaining the Class 1 Airport Operating Certificate -- was to work on communications and test a standardized strategy to handle situations such as an Alert 3 crash, he said.
"In real life, if this were to happen it would be too much for any one department to handle," Millican said as he watched paramedics cart off the last of the volunteers who portrayed dead and wounded passengers and crew. "The more people we have trained to respond to a disaster, the faster the response will be if there was ever a major plane crash."
The drill also was an opportunity for the community to observe how an emergency situation would unfold.
Volunteers such as Chris and Tonny Carns, of Odessa, wanted to be a part of DisEx 2012 -- as the training was dubbed by airport and first-responders -- because they thought it would be fun. Others, such as Kelsey Parsley and Kelsie Armistead, were there to earn community service hours for school. But Lea Keesee wanted to witness the event for another reason. She participates in similar simulation exercises for Midland College's medical program.
"I've done medical sims all the time," Keesee said before the exercise began. "But it will be fun to see how this works on such a large scale."
Everyone expected it to be entertaining, and volunteers could be heard making jokes while lying on the tarmac before the emergency tones sounded. But as soon as the airport firefighting units arrived on the scene, the chatter was replaced by the sounds of injured passengers.
The victims were acting a part, but some of the participants didn't anticipate how real the event was going to be. When three of the airport's massive fire engines, designed specifically to inject foam and water into the fuselage of a burning airplane, raced across the runway and the grassy areas with extendable "snozzles" coming in hot, it felt real.
After the drill was completed, many volunteers discussed how impressed they were with the response.
Keesee said emergency responders told her it was about two minutes after the tones rang through the airport until the firefighting rigs appeared on-scene.
"It felt like it was taking forever," she said. "My confidence in the response isn't shaken, but I definitely appreciate how long two minutes really are in situations like this."
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