Emergency responders tested

In mock plane crash

May 24, 2012 12:30 am • By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer/bbullock@santamariatimes.com

The San Luis Obispo Regional Airport was rocked Wednesday during a disaster drill, when a “Brasilia twin engine plane” crashed upon landing and veered into a hangar adjacent to the main runway.

Cal Fire and San Luis Obispo Fire Department crews responded to the simulated crash and ensuing fire. The aircraft — in the shape of a Cal Fire utility van — came to rest wedged into a hangar just north of the passenger terminal.

A handful of passengers remained trapped inside the aircraft while simulated bodies, many mangled by the crash, were strewn about inside the burning hangar.

The plane’s impact also scattered debris far enough to cause a fuel spill from one of the airports three large fuel tanks.

A security breach on the west side the airport further complicated the emergency services drill.

“The airport is required by the Federal Aviation Administration, because we’re a commercial service airport, to have what’s called an Airport Emergency Plan,” said General Manager Richard Howell. “The regulation that creates that plan also requires us every three years to have a live exercise to see how it works. So that’s what we’re doing today.”

The drill tests how well the plan works and how well emergency service responders adhere to its guidelines. The drill exercises all phases of the emergency response, from first responders to recovery and removal of the damaged aircraft, Howell said.

“We’re testing Cal Fire’s response. How they handle command to control functions. How they handle victims. How they handle the deceased,” Howell said.

The drill lasted from 9:30 a.m. to around 1 p.m. and included two local hospitals — French Hospital and Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center — Howell said.

Rich Tokoph, operations manager at Santa Maria Public Airport, was taking notes on the drill because his airport will stage the drill next year.

Students from Cal Poly served as plane crash victims with injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to severe burns and fatal head trauma.

Some of the university’s journalism students served as “mock” media converging at the scene to further complicate the rescue and recovery of victims.

“This is just a great way to work out all of the bugs,” Patrick Lammerding, an FAA inspector in town for a routine inspection of the airport, said as he watched the exercise.

Howell said representatives of the airport, county Office of Emergency Services, Transportation Security Administration, Cal Fire, the hospitals, Red Cross, and any other responders will meet sometime over the next few weeks to discuss the results of the drill.

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