06/12/06 — If a jet goes down ... Base, city practice response

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If a jet goes down ... Base, city practice response

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 12, 2006 1:49 PM

A distress call was sent out at close to 9 this morning from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to Goldsboro and Wayne County first responders -- an aircraft approaching the base was in trouble. Within minutes, another call came out over emergency scanners -- a KC-135 had gone down off Elm Street.

Orbit Comit, an exercise meant to test the capabilities of local responders, was conducted this morning and will continue throughout the week, officials said. The program is designed to involve local, regional and federal response in a variety of terrorism and force protection threats.

Moments after the call went out, Goldsboro Police Department cruisers hustled down Elm Street and blocked through traffic. Civilians would not be allowed to interfere with the crash site.

"We got a call from dispatch in from the base that a plane was in trouble," Maj. Mike Hopper said. "Then we were told the plane was down."

Officers hurried to block off Elm Street at three points -- its intersection with Hillcrest, Stoney Creek and Randolph. Hopper said in the event of a real disaster, police would run security first and foremost.

"This is something that could really happen," he said. "This is what you train for. Once we determine that it's a military aircraft we basically run security and make sure the emergency personnel have a clear path to the scene."

A few seconds behind the police, Goldsboro firefighters rushed in. The scene was described by some who approached the rubble as "brutal." While some rushed to establish a water supply to put out flaming pieces of the fallen aircraft, others ran to assist the injured.

Fire Chief Bobby Greenfield said his men are trained to help those who had been injured first.

"They're looking at the ones who are most critically injured," he said.

Screaming, blood-drenched airmen were lifted onto stretchers by some firefighters and taken for further examination while others assisted the Seymour crew with the blaze.

Greenfield said he was pleased with his department's response.

"I think they did excellent," he said. "They paced themselves and took care of the injured. I am very impressed."

Greenfield added his men were trained on the KC-135 a few weeks ago and he was happy to see his men use what they learned -- and with how well they interacted with the base personnel.

"Their training really paid off," he said. "Our guys are doing a real good job."

Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan was also on hand for the exercise. She said in the event a disaster takes place, the city government will be ready.

"I think we are prepared," she said. "Whenever you have a natural disaster, the city is not going to be able to respond to everybody's needs at once. We would be responsible for any communications that need to go out to the public."

Lt. Col. Jon Beliveau acted as the Chief Exercise Evaluator for the mock-crash. He said in the event the real thing occurs, the base will first set up a command post and then meet with Goldsboro and Wayne responders to establish command.

"It depends on who has the best capabilities at the time," he said of who would take command of the scene.

After the exercise, Beliveau and other evaluators will sit down and determine how responders performed and put a final report together. But the event was just as much about training, he said.

"This is training as well as evaluating," he said. "This is probably the biggest exercise we've done in the last eight years and one of the biggest we've ever done."

At first glance, the morning had gone well, he added.

"I think they did very well," Beliveau said. I didn't see any problems between the two (Base and local responders)."