Mock crash was lesson for all
Personnel from nearly every area emergency agency converged at the Lake Tahoe Airport Thursday morning, just minutes before the call went out over the emergency scanner saying there had been a plane crash.
The only difference between the drill Thursday morning and the real deal was the crowd of emergency workers in the airport parking lot.
The exercise, the tri-annual simulated crash drill, saw a mock DC-9 crash-land and burst into flames at the northeast end of the airport near the fuel farm.
It wasn’t really a plane, it was a city bus, and the victims weren’t really victims, they were South Tahoe High School students.
At 10:16 a.m., the airport’s siren sounded and the firefighters and police, who had been joking among themselves in the airport parking lot, raced to their emergency vehicles.
The call came over the emergency scanner: a report of a DC-9 down a half-mile north of the airport’s control tower.
Emergency personnel quickly disappeared in the direction of the mock crash and Associate Management Analyst Jan Busatto, acting as public information officer, began relaying the incoming details to the press. It was a drill for all involved.
Busatto said the plane was carrying 65 people as she packed the press into her city vehicle and drove toward the crash site.
A police officer stationed at the gate leading to the crash site refused to let the press, or Busatto, into the crash scene, saying he needed confirmation from the incident commander.
Assistant Airport Manager Janis Brand blasted over the scanner that Busatto had to be allowed access to the crash scene as other members of the media were running rampant at the crash site.
The problem, a real Tahoe Daily Tribune photographer circumnavigating the fence line trying to get close enough to the scene to take pictures and a television news crew (played by South Tahoe High students) was harassing the humane society representative.
Thirty-five minutes after the emergency siren, Busatto arrived at the crash site.
Once at the site, she began accumulating the mock information and informing the press.
Busatto told the media the fire was out in seven minutes, 61 passengers and four crew members were on board. She said there were survivors and they were being transported to Barton Memorial Hospital, and personnel from the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, the Lake Valley Fire Department, the city police, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol and Lake Tahoe Ambulance responded.
Then Busatto went to gather further information leaving the press, including the high school camera crew, alone with a large role of caution tape, gold to high school students.
After trying unsuccessfully to find a big enough pocket in which to stash the tape, and after being joined by several “dead” crash victims, the camera crew headed back to school.
The dead and injured victims were loaded into ambulances and taken from the scene.
Finally, Busatto announced the scene had been secured for the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation.
Several independent evaluators were observing at the scene and critiqued the emergency personnel’s performance after the drill.
Lynn Doyal, an evaluator and Alpine County emergency medical services representative, said he thought the drill went reasonably well. Doyal said the purpose of the drill was not to have a flawless performance, but to show where the weaknesses lie and where more training is needed.
As a final note, Dawn Armstrong, the Lake Tahoe Humane Society’s executive director, saved a real dalmatian and a stuffed animal puppy.
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