On Tuesday 7th October 2014, FoDTVA assisted Durham Tees Valley Airport with their annual emergency exercise, titled “Exercise Strider” by the Police.
Airport Manager Shaun Woods requested three volunteers to help with registering staff and observers who would be taking part in the exercise and providing them with refreshments, which included everyone from fire, ambulance, and various Police units as well as some on-site companies such as Swissport. We were then invited to observe the exercise itself, with volunteers Richard Bowater and Paul Tasker going over to the ATR-42 fuselage on the south-side which would act as the crashed aircraft, whilst I went to ‘Silver Command’ in the Admin building. A small fire was prepared adjacent to the aircraft fuselage and a number of ‘bodies’ laid out on the ground nearby. In Silver Command, Shaun Woods arrived around 15-20 minutes after the Duty Manager called the crash in (to simulate his driving time from home to the airport, given this was an out-of-hours accident), he then set-up a special white-board designed for such an event and filled out the few details that were known at that point.
One of the first priorities in the event of a crash is to ring a number of individuals in order of priority, but with this being an exercise, most were already in the room. Over the next few minutes, the various emergency services ‘arrived’ on scene, including the Durham Police Silver Commander, who took over control of the accident from Shaun. By now, we knew the crashed aircraft was an ATR-42 with 31 soles on board and it was 1000 meters north of the runway in a farmers field, on fire but intact. Sam Billau arrived and opened up an area of the terminal for concerned relatives and anyone otherwise associated with the crash.
It was soon established that the crash site was within the jurisdiction of Cleveland Police and shortly after their Silver Command took over from Durham’s. Around about the same time, the ‘press’ turned up and were ‘sent’ to the Premier Inn at Morton Park.
Slowly but surely more information trickled in, first we heard the fire was out and the fire-fighters were now entering the cabin with breathing apparatus, half an hour later seven casualties had been recovered, another half an hour later all 31 soles on board were rescued and taken to James Cook Hospital.
All in all it was a surreal experience watching all of this unfold – you soon forget it’s an exercise and it all starts to feel very real, as it is all done very seriously with little to no general chit chat or joking around, everyone knows their role and consequently it all more or less ran near perfectly. Naturally, there was the odd error here and there, but by-and-large this was down to the fact it was an exercise and in the real event would not have happened.
I always thought in the event of a crash any FoDTVA participation could end up being a nuisance, but having observed Exercise Strider I now feel we could come in very handy if, heaven forbid, a real accident occurred, and we’ll now be encouraging the airport to include us on that list of names that get called at the start of such an event, if we’re not already on there!
Many thanks to Richard Bowater for these photos of the event.