BIG FLATS — Motorists traveling on Interstate 86 through Big Flats early Saturday might have been alarmed to see billowing smoke and emergency responders on the runway at Elmira-Corning Regional Airport.
It appeared serious from a distance, but fortunately the incident was nothing more than a drill required by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Every three years, the FAA mandates that airports stage a full-scale crash simulation drill. Elmira-Corning Airport personnel and Chemung County emergency crews conducted their dress rehearsal Saturday morning.
“Our goal today is to put the airport’s response plan into action, and actually play out a crash scenario, and to let the fire departments actually fulfill their roles,” said Kristin Card, Chemung County Deputy of Fire and Emergency Management.
The simulated crash began around 8 a.m. With a junk car simulating a plane, firefighters ignited a sizable blaze on the car to simulate an inbound flight from Detroit that crash lands and goes up in flames on the runway.
Minutes afterward, seven fire departments and airport fire crews converged on the blaze, putting it out within about 15 minutes.
With the scene of the “crash” under control, responders focused their efforts with assisting approximately 50 “passengers” that were evacuated from the “plane” and ferried away from the emergency area.
The victims, who had fake injuries, were subsequently moved to ambulances and area hospitals for treatment.
After the scene was under control, Elmira-Corning Airport Director of Aviation Bill Hopper gave a press briefing.
“At approximately, 8:25 a.m., Flight XYZ 123 reported gear problems to air traffic control, and shortly after the aircraft crashed on landing on runway 24,” he said of the fake situation. “There are passengers on the aircraft, and 11 fatalities have been reported.”
Officials said the whole point of all of this is to to test the effectiveness and response time of first responders in the event of an aviation emergency, iron out any kinks and be sure they’re prepared for the worst.
“(They’re practicing today) so that in the event of a real crash, they’ll be familiar with their roles, with their responsibilities, where everything is on the airport, how they get back and forth from where the hydrant is located, where the staging area is… it allows them to become familiar with the whole process and to practice something that they don’t normally get to practice,” Card said.
“I found things that I am not prepared for,” Hopper said. “And having drills like this forces you to look at those things and get prepared.”
Participating in the drill were the Big Flats, Elmira Heights, Horseheads, Tompkins Corners and Town and Country fire departments.
Also participating were the New York State Police, New York State Department of Transportation, Chemung County Emergency Management and Chemung County Sheriff’s Department.