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Airport officials test readiness during crash drill

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- At the scene of a plane crash Wednesday morning, several passengers were ejected from the plane and suffered numerous injuries. EMS and first responders worked quickly to treat the passengers' injuries, while law enforcement and fire officials worked the scene of the wreckage -- wreckage that was staged.

Officials from multiple agencies converged Wednesday at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport to test their ability to respond to a plane crash, a drill that is required to take place every three years by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Yvette Aehle, airport director for Southwest Georgia Regional, said airport officials teamed up with numerous agencies from around Dougherty County to stage the full-scale airline disaster.

The Albany Police Department, Albany Fire Department, Dougherty County EMS, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Palmyra Medical Center were among the agencies and facilities that participated in the drill.

Twenty-seven participants from Turner Job Corps volunteered to serve as the plane crash victims. Airport officials said Wednesday that volunteers were assigned numerous injuries to portray that would be sustained in an actual plane crash, including fatalities, and wore realistic make-up to make their injuries more believable.

Aehle said it was important to execute drills like the one Wednesday so agencies can spot areas where work is needed.

"This is the time when we spot the issues," said the airport director. "We need to remain in practice so that first responders know that if a disaster like this were to happen, they know the procedures to take and where to go."

The airport used an old plane and fuselage to make the crash site more believable to participants. Planes and helicopters landed and took off during the disaster exercise over the heads of first responders training in the event.

"We try to make it as realistic as possible," said Aehle. "We actually will have people trapped in the fuselage that first responders will need to rescue."

The "passengers" of the plane that suffered injuries were transported to local hospitals for treatment, said Airport Safety Chief Bernard Ford.

Dr. Doug Patten, chief medical officer for Phoebe Putney, said the hospital received 24 patients from the crash site.

"We processed those patients, as we would actual victims of a disaster," Patten said. "Some were taken to the OR (operating room) for surgery and others were treated and released, and some patients were admitted. We try to get it as close as possible to the real thing."

Patten said all departments of the hospital were involved in the drill and that it was important for the community to have such exercises conducted.

"It very important through a community perspective to have multiple agencies working together on a disaster so we know we are prepared for one if it happens," he said.

Eric Riggle, hospital spokesman for Palmyra, said the hospital received and treated 18 patients from the crash site.

All agencies involved with the two-hour drill held debriefings in order to discuss what changes might be needed for disaster procedures.

"It's all about getting everybody on the same page and working together to make the process as streamlined as possible," said Ford.

Click here to see more photos from the event.

More on this story to come...