Post Crash Management Exercise at Florennes Airbase


A few minutes after taking off, the pilot of an F-16 display aircraft lost control of his aircraft during the 2008 edition of the Defence Days at Florennes airbase. Although the pilot did his utmost to direct the aircraft to open space, the crippled jet crashed just behind the main crowd line. Forty spectators were injured by debris of the exploding aircraft. Six of the 22 severely wounded casualties sustained multiple major traumas and succumbed to their injuries on the scene of the accident or on the way to a neighbouring hospital. The unfortunate pilot did not have time to eject and was killed in the crash.

The crashed display aircraft was simulated by Republic F-84F Thunderstreak FU-50, one of the numerous aircraft that acted as decoys at the airbase during the Cold War.

These headlines are of course fictitious. They are just an excerpt of the scenario of the post crash management exercise that was held on 24 April 2008 at Florennes airbase in preparation of the Defence Days that will be held there during the first weekend of July.

Air show organisers are taking all possible technical and organisational precautions to avoid accidents entailing such headlines, but they do not exclude them. Aircraft crashes are taken into account as if the unexpected should happen after all, it is better to be well prepared and well trained to reduce its consequences. It was in this context that the large-scale post crash management exercise was staged.

The main objective of post crash management is to avoid the loss of lives caused by untimely or improperly administered medical care in the hectic aftermath of an aircraft accident. To that end, urgency plans and catastrophe plans are elaborated and tested beforehand. Each plan puts the proper emergency personnel and equipment into action to optimally cope with the gravity and magnitude of the occurring accident. Command and control means and experts and equipment of four major post crash intervention branches – fire-fighters, medical staff, security personnel and logisticians – were put to the test during the exercise.

Students of a local nursing school acted as victims in the post crash management exercise, giving them a better insight in problems arising during accidents or catastrophes with high numbers of casualties.

Immediately after the crash, which was simulated by burning fuel drums and smoke pots in a Republic F-84F Thunderstreak decoy aircraft, a red distress signal flare alarmed all rescue services. When a phone call from one of the victims revealed the extent of the accident, the first phase of the urgency medical plan was launched and two fire engines and four ambulances were sent to the scene of the crash. Fire-fighters immediately secured the zone by extinguishing seats of fire and evacuated the casualties to a central triage area. There, medical staff made a first assessment of the victims’ injuries in order to administer in time the proper first medical care to avoid further deterioration of their medical condition. Medical experts also determined priorities for medical assistance and for evacuation to the advanced medical post on the airbase or, if need be, to a civilian hospital in the vicinity. No less than 10 ambulances and four medical intervention vehicles were put into action to cope with the staged calamity. In the meantime, security personnel removed journalists, souvenir hunters and disaster tourists from the crash site to safeguard their wellbeing and to secure the site for later investigation into the cause of the accident. Communications, one of the major weaknesses revealed during earlier similar exercises, received much attention and is now bearing the fruits of investments made during the past few years. Personnel of the airbase and of Comopsair also paid attention to crisis communication towards the press and people coming to the airbase in search of information on their next of kin.

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© Jos Schoofs (April 2008)

Last updated 01/05/08 12:15   Daniel Brackx