Moans and feeble cries for help greeted the emergency responders as they surveyed a field littered with bodies and luggage.
“Have you seen a dog anywhere?” asked Mike Dunham, a mustached youth nursing an arm fracture and a hematoma. “I’m supposed to be looking for a dog.”
“If he was on the plane, he flew out the window,” a voice replied.
Battered and confused from his ordeal, Dunham, the plane crash victim, never did locate Tiberius III, a 30-pound Chihuahua he invented Tuesday as part of a simulated Gainesville Regional Airport emergency exercise. Dunham the EMT trainee, however, gained insight into the logistics of triage by observing professionals practice its principles firsthand.
“We’re all learning as well as kind of helping them do their job, so it goes both ways,” the Santa Fe Community College student said. “I enjoyed it. I would do it again.”
The Federal Aviation Administration requires airports to train for aircraft disasters every three years, and 18 local and federal agencies, including Alachua County Fire Rescue, Gainesville Fire Rescue and the Gainesville Police Department participated in Tuesday’s drill, which took place in a field adjacent to the airport.
Santa Fe Community College and University of Florida EMT students donned moulage, or make-up applied to resemble injuries and portrayed the victims of a fictional crash modeled after a real one from 2020. In May of that year, 97 people died after the landing gear of a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus failed to deploy.
Coordinators of the simulation staged EMT students at UF Health Shands Hospital satellite locations to serve as “body doubles” for each student loaded into an ambulance back at the airport. Their fake injuries corresponded to those of the students at the fake crash site.
Airport Security Coordinator/K9 Handler Jason Berger brought Beamer, a yellow Labrador Retriever, to the scene, and she practiced her own training by searching for and locating residue from explosives planted within a suitcase on the field.
“We try to make it as realistic as possible,” said Shaun Blevins, Gainesville Regional Airport operations manager.
During a debriefing, Gainesville Fire Rescue District Chief and incident commander Cary Williams deemed the exercise a success.
“It allows us to be able to see how we’re following the airport emergency plan and to allow each entity and each agency to be able to address some things moving forward,” Williams said. “So it was a great exercise all in all.”