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Fortunately, Saturday's airplane collision just a drill

September 28, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Federal Aviation Administration rules require that commercial airports do a mock airplane crash every three years to test the ability of airport and area emergency units to respond to such disasters.

Saturday morning, it was Washington County Regional Airport's turn again. The last drill was held in 1995, said Norman Bassett, airport spokesman.

The drill is checked by officials from the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board, Bassett said.

A mock scenario was created to test the response ability of area fire departments and rescue personnel.

Rescue teams were told that a loaded 19-passenger Jetstream commuter aircraft had struck a private single-engine plane that had crossed its path on the runway while the jet was taking off at 10 a.m.

They were told that the right wing of the jet struck the tail section of the small Piper Lance, destroying the jet's aileron. The jet rolled and crashed north of the runway and broke into several pieces. Some passengers were ejected, others were trapped in the burning wreckage. Five people on board the plane were supposed to have been killed.

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The jet was also said to have been carrying a crew of two pilots.

The pilot of the small plane, who disregarded tower instructions when he crossed into the path of the jet, was shaken, but not injured. His passenger, a woman who is seven months pregnant, went into labor while still in the plane.

As Saturday's drill began, the first units to respond were the airport's own crash vehicle and a fire truck owned by California Micro Wave, a private business at the airport. The first outside units arrived at the scene at 10:13 a.m., Bassett said.

The mock disaster took place on Runway 27 across the field from the airport's passenger terminal.

Airport officials, hoping to avoid anxiety among real passengers waiting for flights, announced several times over the public address system during the exercise that what they were seeing and hearing was only a drill.

The drill ended by noon.

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