Airport Emergency Drill

About to get transformed into a plane crash victim!

“Sir, can you hear me? If you can hear me, please squeeze my hand.” I didn’t squeeze his hand and the rescuer called over some others to help put me on a stretcher. Laying as limp as I’ve ever been, I was carried with my neck stabilized to another part of the ground where I was seen by a doctor, who triaged me as “red,” meaning I was in critical condition. After more and more victims were carried on stretchers and laid out beside me, I was then carried to another part of the ground, waited for a while, and then carried onto an ambulance. Not long after that, the time was called and the drill ended.

Every two years, the Emergency Rescue Team at the Princess Juliana International Airport conducts these drills to practice their routine in the event of an air crash. Today, AUC students had the opportunity to volunteer playing the crash victims as well as help evaluate the rescue team’s performance.

This morning, a bus picked up the 40 or 50 of us who volunteered and took us to the Red Cross headquarters by the airport. After a quick breakfast there, we were each fitted into tattered clothes, and became the canvas for a team of make-up artists. It was like the movie set of Night of the Living Dead. The make-up artists conjured up all sorts of injuries that could happen to crash victims. With powders, pastes, and putties, some of us were painted with mild scrapings, while others got fake shards of glass stuck onto them. Some victims were given red tablets to chew in their mouths that would make their mouths look like they’re bleeding. I got some putty smeared onto my neck and then got sprayed with a bottle of red dye… I was getting a carotid injury, and don’t know if I’ll make it out of the crash alive!

Volunteers from AUC walking to the crash site

After we were all tattered up and given our individual roles to play, we headed to the airport. Flights to and from St. Maarten were cancelled for the next two and a half hours for this drill. When we got to the site, there was a small crashed plane on one side of the crash site, representing the front half of the crashed plane, separated by a bus on the other, representing the back half of the crashed plane after it was split into two during the crash.

The scenario for today goes like this: We were playing French nationals who are flying on Jinx Airlines Flight JX142 from Venezuela when our plane crashed and split in two on the runway. One volunteer played the captain while another played the co-pilot, both of which were killed. On the plane, there was also a policeman escorting a convict. During the crash, the policeman gets killed but the convict survives and runs around, causing trouble and distracting the rescue team. Some volunteers were instructed to play certain characters, like a survivor who goes berserk looking for his loved ones in the rubble, while other volunteers were instructed during the drill when to fall unconscious and when to die, if the rescuers were not quick enough to tend to the victim. As we were playing French nationals who just crashed in an English-speaking country, we were instructed to pretend not to understand the rescuers if they talk to us, and use hand signs instead, adding another dimension of challenge for the rescue team.

Smoke! The rescue team had to search for victims in low visibility settings.

As I was given a carotid/jugular laceration today, and presumably in hemorrhagic shock, I played the role of an unconscious victim. After laying on the ground for a few minutes, I heard the sirens of the police, firefighters, and ambulance rushing from the distance towards the airport. It was as if it were the real deal. Laying supine, twisted, and perfectly still under the sun, I could see from the corner of my eyes the rescue crew come and assess the victims, taking them away by stretcher. Smoke (from a fog machine) came out of the posterior part of the airplane (bus) as the rescuers were pulling victims out. A flame went up near the crash site (a real fire!) and the firefighters came and put it out.

I had a lot of fun today, and I was impressed with the realism the team tried to put into this drill, complete with real fire, simulated smoke, and debris from the airplane, and of course, the stunningly gruesome costuming and makeup. While I had an awesome time going through this experience today, I felt a little concerned that it took the rescuers so long to save me. While I was laying on the ground, I kept wondering why I had not been rescued yet. And once I was put aside to be triaged, I wondered why I had just been left there unattended for a good bit of critical time. I feel if this crash really were to happen and if I really had the injuries that I played, then I would have long died from loss of blood. Nevertheless, it was a good, and necessary practice for the emergency rescue team, and a way for them to assess what they could have done better, and a fun experience for all of us who participated.