There was an airplane crash Tuesday morning at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport.
But it wasn’t a real crash.
Instead, it was a simulated disaster exercise that the Federal Aviation Administration mandates commercial airports do once every three years.
Eighty-eight students from Goddard High School played crash victims, some wearing realistic makeup. Bodies were strewn up to a quarter mile from the fuselage of a Cessna Citation jet on the airport’s southwest edge.
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Sedgwick County Emergency Medical Service and fire, Wichita police and fire, airport police and fire, and a helicopter from air ambulance service LifeTeam all played a part in the exercise that included a fire with a plume of thick, black smoke that could be seen from a mile away.
The fire was extinguished within a few minutes after the first of two crash trucks arrived.
“The patients are getting triaged well and they’re moving them right along,” said Jason Jones, deputy chief of airport police and fire. “Everybody’s on scene, we’ve resupplied our fire trucks with water foam, so everything’s going pretty well, pretty quickly.”
Tuesday’s simulated exercise wasn’t focused exclusively on extinguishing fires and treating and transporting crash victims. Back at Eisenhower’s terminal in a room on the second floor, volunteer members of the airport’s Incident Family Support Team were working with worried and grieving family members played by drama students at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School.
It’s the second time the disaster simulation at Eisenhower has included the team of volunteers organized six years ago to provide comfort and support to family members immediately following an accident.
It was just a little more than a month after the airport conducted its last major disaster exercise when a Beechcraft King Air taking off from Eisenhower’s east runway lost power and crashed into a FlightSafety building. The Oct. 30, 2014, crash killed the pilot and three people inside the building.
Jones said Tuesday’s exercise serves to make first responders better prepared in disasters like that.
“The lesson we learned is just communication and making relationships with mutual aid agencies prior to an actual disaster,” he said. “That’s what this does. It helps us build relationships with the mutual aid agencies around here. The better that you know them, the better that you’re going to work together when it actually happens.”