08/14/14 — Crash test: What would the response to a SJAFB aircraft crash look like?

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Crash test: What would the response to a SJAFB aircraft crash look like?

By John Joyce
Published in News on August 14, 2014 1:46 PM

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A member of the 916th Air Refueling Wing is helped by a Seymour Johnson Air Force Base firefighter during a simulated plane crash early this morning at a site located off of U.S. 70. Several airmen were asked to pretend they were injured in the mock crash.

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Seymour Johnson firefighters battle a simulated blaze at the scene of a mock KC-135R crash.

A 916th Air Refueling Wing KC-135R Stratotanker crashed shortly after it left Seymour Johnson Air Force Base early this morning.

At least one airman is presumed dead and several others were critically injured.

That was the scenario painted by an inspection team at a site just north of U.S. 70 near Oak Forest Road.

It was only a test -- a measure of just how well military and Wayne County officials could handle the unthinkable.

And the scene was chaotic.

Four months of planning and half-a-dozen meetings coordinating efforts between Seymour Johnson, Wayne County and the city of Goldsboro culminated in a joint exercise today simulating a U.S. Air Force aircraft crash.

Maj. Michael Kelly, the 4th Fighter Wing chief of inspections for the 333rd Inspector General's Office, explained the purpose of today's joint effort just minutes before the scenario went live.

"There was a simulated flight plan so the (air traffic control) tower knows it has an aircraft. They won't be able to see it, of course, but then I'm going to call in and say that it crashed," he said.

The official call was made at 8:05 a.m.

Another airman then simulated a civilian 911 call to Wayne County Communications.

"Oh my God, one of them military aircraft just crashed," the caller said.

Smoke billowed out of two generators at the crash site.

A Bluebird bus served as the wreckage and debris was scattered around the area, enhancing the scenario by making it look more realistic and by adding additional obstacles first-responders would likely encounter in a real world scenario.

On the ground, airmen were strewn about in prone positions, some in simulated agony.

Their injuries were painted on by members of the 4th Fighter Wing Medical Group, Kelly said.

After arriving on scene, first-responders with Wayne County EMS then had to treat each victim based on their visible injuries and what the victims -- those who could speak -- could tell them.

Goldsboro police arrived minutes before EMS and blocked traffic. The Goldsboro Fire Department simulated its response, but "arrived" just behind EMS.

Air Force fire crews and security forces personnel then moved in and took control of the operation.

"It's huge for us, and for the county," Kelly said.

The base executes scenarios such as the simulated crash maybe twice a year, he added. The scope of this exercise, because it includes the entire base -- more than 35 units -- and all of the county emergency response agencies, is one of the largest.

The more critically injured victims were transported to Wayne Memorial Hospital.

"There will be two victims actually taken by ambulance to Wayne Memorial Hospital to be treated. They will then be transferred back to the Medical Group clinic on base," Kelly said.

The less severely injured airmen were to be taken to the base clinic by bus.

The 4th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters were last to arrive, but wasted no time leaping from their oversized fire trucks in full gear and setting up for a simulated fire attack. Once the "blaze" was out, the firemen joined EMS workers in assessing injuries and transporting patients to a triage station set up nearby.

One firefighter, after being instructed to do so by an exercise inspector, went down with an apparent equipment failure. His fellow firefighters wasted no time treating him, fixing his equipment and getting him right back to the business of treating the wounded.

As of press time, a search for remaining victims was still ongoing. The total number of victims had not been released.

In a real world scenario, no names would be released until the scene was secured and reports were completed. Once the reports were compiled, a press release would be prepared, Senior Airman Daniel Blackwell of the 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office said.

"And then it would not be until 24 hours after the next of kin were notified that the names of the victims would be released," he said.

A debriefing will take place, likely Friday, between all the agencies involved to see what went well and what did not.

"Sometime after that, there will be a report and we will see where we are and what we can improve upon," Kelly said.