CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A small commercial jet collided with a dump truck on the runway of the Cheyenne Regional Airport, leaving dozens of passengers injured.
This was the scenario for the full-scale crash simulation conducted by airport staff and first responder agencies this morning. The drill is done every three years, as required by the Federal Aviation Administration, to sharpen responders’ coordination, communication skills and response times. The participating agencies included the Wyoming Air National Guard, Cheyenne Police and Fire Rescue, Laramie Combined Communication Center, Red Cross and AMR.
A jet crash is a likely possibility, as the capital city’s only airport boosts daily commercial flights to Denver through SkyWest and United Airlines, said Tim Bradshaw, director of Aviation. Since April 5, the airport has undergone its last phase of replacing the runway. Some commercial flights have been suspended but are expected to fully resume around Sept. 10. The dates are subject to change depending on the weather and other airport construction contingencies.
A prop Wyoming Air National Guard plane was towed onto the runway to represent the jet in jeopardy. Emergency responder vehicles drove from the terminal to the plane and set up communication areas and makeshift treatment centers. Dozens of adult actors, covered in fake blood and prosthetic wounds, occasionally cried out in pain and confusion to mimic the effect of a real emergency. Those with more serious injuries were loaded onto ambulances and driven to the nearby Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. The center also participated in the event to practice its response to mass casualties.
While some responders dragged victims out of the plane and administered aid, others helped the situation by observing. Standing several yards away from the crash, Rick Moore, a public information officer for Albany County’s Emergency Operations Center Response, was tasked with identifying responders’ positions and weak spots. His notes would be communicated via a handheld radio to the Joint Information Center, or JIC, which was headquartered inside the airport. The JIC would then pass the information along to responders on the ground.
“As PIOs, it’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone is under the same page with verified information,” he said.
Moore and his commander were some of the few out-of-county participants. This is Moore’s first time doing a crash simulation at the Cheyenne airport. Moore noted that it took responders a longer than usual time to look on the other side of the plane for survivors. He also thought that the designated “morgue” and triage areas should have been further away from each other. The notes will hopefully be remembered and used as a learning experience to save more lives, he said.
“What this exercise does is teach us all where we’re weak as hell,” he said.
When it comes to coordinating this many agencies during a crash, communication is crucial, said Bradshaw, who has participated in 12 simulations over the course of his career.
“It’s chaos, it really is,” he said. “You’ve got all these agencies, they got radio and cellphones, all this technology. There’s always going to be hiccups in communication.”
Bradshaw said he felt good about today’s simulation. The organizations tested out their emergency plan and in the end accomplished what they needed to do, he said.
“God forbid anything like that happens,” he said, “but if it did, I feel confident the agencies and everybody would be able to respond.”