Leader Blues

Monday, October 16, 2006

FRONT PAGE STORY>>Air base holds disaster drill

Leader staff writer

A vintage P-51 Mustang aircraft from World War II crashed into a C-130 cargo plane parked on the tarmac at Little Rock Air Force Base Friday morning, killing the P-52’s pilot, the C-130 navigator and a paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., and injuring 13 others.

That was the scenario for LRAFB’s major accident response exercise (MARE) testing how the base would respond if there were a real plane crash during the Air Power Arkansas 2006 air show, scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 4-5 at the base.
The base holds MAREs quarterly to be ready for both natural and man-made disasters.

The MARE began with a briefing by Maj. Dan Halsted of the 314th Inspector General’s office. “We have more than 140 team members role-playing in today’s exercise, including about 60 Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps students from Beebe and Cabot,” Halsted told The Leader, which sent this reporter to participate in the exercise as herself.

“I’m hoping this will show we’re ready for anything that could happen at the air show,” Halsted said. Following the briefing, volunteers had mock injuries applied to them with a makeup process called moulage. “We actually take a class to teach you how to make people look injured,” said Tech Sgt. Jason Koppel of Cabot, a member of the 314th Medical Detachment Group.
Using synthetic skin, adhesive, wax and a lot of fake blood, Koppel gave volunteers cuts, burns and bruises.

“At my last duty station I actually split my forehead playing ball, and the emergency room there thought I was moulaging them,” Koppel said, sponging purple dye around a bruise on Capt. Al Neves, of the 62nd Airlift Squadron.

Alycia Mills, 16, of Cabot proudly showed off the six-inch long mock cut on her leg to Alex Hayden, 15. “Today is going to be so cool,” Mills said. After being moulaged, the volunteers were taken to their places around base and the victims were placed around a parked C-130 where orange cones represented flames. No fake smoke, just a simple announcement “there’s been a crash” catapulted base personnel into action.

Medical personnel had to perform triage on the wounded, seeing which injuries were most severe while the base fire department sprayed down the “flames.” On the day of the air show, a helicopter from Arkansas Children’s Hospital will be at the base in the event of a medical emergency.

In the event of an actual crash at the air show, the air show narrator would instruct the crowd. Depending on the type of accident, people may be asked to stay where they are or go to their vehicles to prepare to evacuate the base. During the exercise security forces had their hands full with crowd control, at one point having to chase, tackle and arrest onlooker Lance Williams, 15, of Cabot.

“Getting arrested wasn’t that bad. I got a scratch on my neck but that happens,” Williams said. Lt. Kelly George and other members of the 314th Strategic Information Command had their hands full corralling the media and disseminating information.

“If there was a crash, we’d have 250,000 people scared, not knowing what’s going on. It’s important to let them know what’s happening. Everyone has a different goal during the exercise. My goal is to help disseminate information. Their (Security Forces Squadron) goal is to keep us safe and the crash site secure,” George said.

Within an hour of the accident, a news release was passed out to the media and two hours later, Brig. Gen. Kip Self, commander of LRAFB, held a brief press conference at the Strategic Information Offices. “Our immediate goal is not to place blame. We want to take care of the families of the dead and injured first. Those names will not be released until 24-hours after the next-of-kin are notified,” Self said.

The exercise ended there for the volunteers, who were fed lunch at the LRAFB Community Center by the Pizza Company, 200 Hwy. 67/167 N in the Howard Johnson. “If we find any weaknesses when we review today’s exercise, we’ll have them fixed by the time the air show gets here,” Halsted said.

The Air Power Arkansas air show held the first weekend in November will be the last aerial demonstration at the base for two to five years, according to George. The Navy Blue Angels F-18 Hornet aerial demonstration team is the featured performance for the show, tentatively scheduled to fly at 2:45 p.m. both days. Other military aircraft performances include the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-16 Viper and the Canadian Forces CF-18.

The Air Force Wings of Blue parachute demonstration team will feature 12 parachutists jumping from a C-130 cargo aircraft. About 250 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division will jump from LRAFB’s C-130s during personnel drop demonstration.
A new addition to this year’s show a concert by the band Wide-Awake will follow the Blue Angels demonstration on Saturday, Nov. 4.