RI emergency crews practice responding to a simulated plane crash

WARWICK — Hundreds of Rhode Island emergency personnel tested their ability to deal with a downed airliner Saturday during a simulation at Rhode Island TF Green International Airport.

The scenario for the full-scale exercise involved an Airbus 310 piloted by a crew of eight and carrying 121 passengers.

The imaginary aircraft in the simulation takes off from London Heathrow Airport bound for Kennedy Airport in New York. But he turns to TF Green with mechanical problems. An attempted emergency landing is a failure.

This was the part of the simulation that involved live flames on Saturday morning.

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The exercise involved real flames, student volunteers acting as passengers

At least 95 firefighters from the airport, Warwick, Cranston, Providence and West Warwick battled a real fire that was started in a long-term car park in what planners described as a “large-scale exercise ladder”.

Flames erupted from a mock aircraft fuselage that had been trucked onto a flatbed for the simulation.

Firefighters were on the scene within three minutes, said Thomas Guthlein, executive administrator of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, which helped the airport organize and plan the simulation.

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In addition to the actual flames, local emergency crews also treated more than 60 people, including students from local universities, who acted as passengers at the scene of a simulated airliner disaster.

In the simulation, 29 people are killed in the crash and more than 30 are flown in for treatment, airport spokesman John Goodman said.

As part of the exercise, a medical transport officer contacted area hospitals to assess capacity and make decisions on where to send patients.

A patient tracking system was used, but no one from the simulation actually went to the hospital.

Another element of the exercise involved a special airline team, a “go-team”, which activates and coordinates with families of passengers.

Drill also involved personnel from JetBlue, state and federal agencies

A JetBlue departure team did their job, which involved reunification-related simulations in London and New York.

Personnel from various state and federal agencies participated in the day-long exercise, including staff from the Rhode Island Department of Health, the Red Cross, the state’s Behavioral Health Division, RIEMA and the National Transportation Safety Board, the US Department of State and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

The airport is required to carry out such an exercise every three years.

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Goodman said the airport takes security seriously.

“These are the things that keep us up at night,” he said.

A total of about 200 people were on the ground at the airport Saturday morning and about 300 people took part in the simulation, Guthlein said.

About 35 RIEMA staff helped plan the operation, and 10 to 15 were on site.

Then they will write a report, hoping to identify “gaps” and areas where the emergency response could be improved, Guthlein said.