TUSAYAN, Ariz. -- At a glance the simulated disaster scene Aug. 30. at Grand Canyon National Park Airport is alarming, a crashed airplane with bodies spewed about, first responders bustling in hurried motions and emergency vehicles stacked up alongside the runway.
Though the tragedy was staged, the adrenaline was pumping and serious faces indicated that the first responders were ready to do their job.
“Today’s scenario will be a De Havilland Canada Dash 8 conducting a crash landing off the west side of the runway while inbound for a landing on runway 21,” explained Robert Youngblood, training officer for Grand Canyon National Park Airport, during a briefing with first responders. “While making final approach everything about the airplane landing appeared to be fine. As the aircraft was getting closer to touchdown an object appeared to fall from the aircraft. The aircraft veered off to the west and was unable to regain lift while aborting the landing and crashed.”
Youngblood explained that the drill is an opportunity to see how local, state, national and regional agencies work together.
“A lot of what we’re expecting is how well we work together and communication between agencies. It’s also evaluating our airport emergency plan,” Youngblood said.
Along with Grand Canyon National Park Airport and Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), other participating agencies participating in the drill included Coconino Emergency Management, Tusayan Fire Department, the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Forestry Service and Coconino County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
Around 25 volunteers acted as wounded passengers. During the drill, each person had to be located, accounted for and assigned triaged tags assessing and classifying their condition.
According to Ryan Harding, public information officer for Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), the airport schedules these exercises every three years to test the airport emergency operations.
“This tests our response and planning between the agencies in the event of a disaster,” he said. “We then evaluate and discuss how and what we need to improve so that we can be better prepared in the event of a real emergency.”
Sam Beckett, project manager for Coconino County Emergency Management, has performed several of these drills.
“This is going well and gives first responders who may not work with each other on a daily basis to communicate during an actual incident and it helps break down any barriers that might be there so they don’t have to go through it during a live incident,” Beckett said.
Additional local partners included the Tusayan Fire Department.
“Participating in a multi-agency training is incredibly beneficial to those of us in a rural setting,” said Molly Woolley, a career firefighter with Tusayan Fire. “We do not respond to as many emergencies as bigger cities, (but) events can still occur in our area so it’s important to be prepared for anything. Training together is one of the best things we can do.”
Grand Canyon National Park Airport is the only state-owned and operated airport in Arizona. The airport is located in Tusayan, seven miles from the South Rim and two miles from the park entrance to Grand Canyon.