Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport was the scene of a plane crash Tuesday morning in which 15 people were killed and another 50 injured. Fortunately, it was all just a drill.
The Full Scale Emergency Exercise took place in the large vacant area in the northeast section of the airport property where the old Lockheed Skunk Works used to be located. It involved a number of emergency response organization who would be involved if there were a real-life incident at the airport. An old passenger jet fuselage was used to simulate the crashed plane, along with three cars.
In a chillingly real-sounding broadcast, the simulated radio transmission between the airport tower and the doomed plane were played to the assembled crowd of observers. A commercial flight with 65 passengers and a crew of 4, is on final approach from the south for runway 33. The pilot and co-pilot are temporarily blinded when someone on the ground on Empire Ave. shines a laser into the cockpit. The plane makes a hard landing, partially collapsing it’s nose gear. The plane veers off the runway, through a fence, before striking a construction area and bursting into flames.
To add realism, pyrotechnics were placed around the fuselage, and in three cars. An explosion goes off, sending dirt and pieces of cork to simulate debris flying from around the aircraft. The cars burst into flame. A huge loom up of black smoke rises into the sky, which was visible for miles around.
First to arrive on scene are the specialized fire trucks from Airport Rescue & Fire Fighting. Although just spraying water on the crashed plane, they are designed in a real incident to spray foam to quickly put out any fire. As units from the Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, and Los Angeles City Fire Departments arrived on scene, the burning cars were extinguished, and rescue of the victims inside the plane began.
These volunteer victims had been at the airport since 6 a.m. for their “cosmetic magic.” As they emerged from the crashed plane, their wounds looked very real. Firefighters set up a triage area as the injured victims were assessed. Providence St. Joseph Medical Center was on hand to deal with the injured. For the less fortunate victims, the Los Angeles County Coroner was on hand with a mobile autopsy truck.
Burbank resident Scott Noack looked like he should have been among the dead. The left side of his face was covered in what appeared to be a gaping wound and burned flesh. A member of the Burbank Fire Corps, Noack had asked to be made up “as gory as possible.” They didn’t disappoint him. He joked that he left his left eyeball in seat 13F.
Barbara Felder, who works as an operations coordinator at the airport, was walking around with a “concussion.” Her face was made up to appear burned, and she sported a broken left leg. She joked about walking through the Southwest ticketing area on her way back to work. Like other “victims” in the drill, she would get cleaned up before leaving.
Not so lucky were Cornelio Lozano of Hollywood and Bill Naylor of Buena Park. They were among those killed in the crash. Naylor, who sported a fake metal spike protruding from his forehead, is no newcomer to death. This is his third time to die. He was a casualty at a drill previously held at John Wayne Airport, and at another held at a hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
“I’d like a live position next time, “ said Naylor, so I can see more of what’s going on.”
Had he really been killed in the crash, Naylor would have ended up in the Coroner’s truck. Logistics Technician Manuel Gutierrez of the Corner’s Office explained how the truck is equipped to perform autopsies at the scene of a major incident. The Coroner has 4 of these trucks. They are used for incidents with multiple deaths, such as the Chatsworth train wreck a few years ago.
Michelle Van Hoek, an ER nurse at St. Joe’s was there for the injured. The hospital has large tents that can quickly be inflated to provide a place for triage, or even to treat the injured. Connie Lackey of Providence St. Joseph Medical Center showed off the communications van that lets 10 hospitals in the Providence system stay in contact during a major incident. Next to the van was their mobile command and communications center that allows the hospital to be in communication with police, fire, hospitals, and other medical facilities by radio, satellite, data, and phone.
The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) requires the airport to conduct this exercise every three years. In addition to meeting the FAA requirement, it provided the emergency responders from the various agencies participating with the opportunity to respond and evaluate the Airport’s current Emergency Plan. In a real emergency the plan would be to save lives by putting out any fires, rescuing victims, protecting the environment and property, and returning the airport to normal operations as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Besides the Airport Police and Burbank Police Departments, FBI and National Transportation Board agents were on hand for the exercise. In the event of a similar real-life event, the area would be considered a crime scene. Support would also come from the air. Helicopters from the Burbank Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office flew over during the exercise.
Airport Police Chief Edward Skvarna was not surprised by how well the various agencies worked together during the exercise. His department works with personnel from these agencies almost every day.
“There are always things we can do better,” said Skvarna, adding, “I’m very happy with the exercise.”
Evaluators from a variety of agencies were on scene to observe all aspects of the exercise. Their observations and critiques will be part of a full-scale evaluation that will take place on April 4.