The nature of what we do has some inherent dangers and this planning and exercising for an improbable worst-case scenario is testament to our airmen's training and professionalism. —Lt. Col. Juris Jansons, air show coordinator
HILL AIR FORCE BASE — A simulated midair crash between two F-16s was the setting of a Wednesday drill in preparation for the upcoming base open house and air show Memorial Day weekend.
Hill attracted nearly 400,000 at its 2009 air show and wants to maintain its good safety record of late. Testing the "worst-case scenario" is part of that safety preparation, said Maj. Rob Baran, who oversees the base's emergency response resources with the 775th Civil Engineer Squadron.
The drill also follows a particularly deadly year for air shows around the world — and drew on lessons learned from those incidents.
Internationally, there were 12 air show incidents, a number of them involving fatalities, in 2011 compared to five in 2010 and six in 2009, according to a Wikipedia list of accidents and incidents dating back to 1910.
Closest to home, and the deadliest, was the Sept. 16 crash last year at the Reno, Nev., Air Races that killed 11 people, including the pilot of a vintage P-51 Mustang that went out of control.
This year's air show will feature the Air Force Thunderbirds precision flying team. One of the team's jets crashed during a Hill air show in 1981, killing its pilot. All four pilots in the performing team were killed the next January in a pre-season practice at the team's home station near Las Vegas.
Baran coordinated the drill involvement of federal, state and local emergency response agencies, which converged on the base Wednesday morning to see dozens of volunteers from the base and the Clearfield Job Corps simulating ground casualties after a mock collision between two F-16s — one of them crashing on base and the other off base.
Deciding who is in charge in a mass casualty response, coordinating communications among agencies, and coordinating emergency response vehicles and ambulances are the big issues in a major calamity. The base's emergency responders wanted to test those networks before the "Warriors Over the Wasatch" open house and air show May 26-27.
"This is a chance to network, to build those relationships," Baran said. Almost 200 people were involved in the exercise. Down to the "nurse in the hospital" level in an actual emergency, Baran said 500 people could be involved as responders in an actual mass casualty.
One thing the emergency response coordinators at Hill are quick to point out are the differences between its air show and an air race, like the one in Reno.
Air races present more hazard variables than air shows, which contain more of the flights near spectators in an "aerobatic box" that has a flight path parallel to crowd lines, said Lt. Col. Juris Jansons, the air show coordinator. Air show flights are designed to keep crowds separated from the aircraft.
The timing of this year's event, on the Memorial Day weekend, means a smaller crowd than usual is likely, which should make emergency response duties more manageable — and make it easier for spectators who do go to get on and off base.
Today's exercise went well," Jansons said after the exercise. "We got exactly what we were hoping for. Our first responders got great training, we were able to work with our local community first responders, and we continued to refine our ability to deal with any regional contingency."
"The purpose of an open house and air show is not only to show the public the Air Force mission, but also the training and professionalism of our airmen," Jansons said. "The nature of what we do has some inherent dangers and this planning and exercising for an improbable worst-case scenario is testament to our airmen's training and professionalism."
The "Warriors Over the Wasatch" open house and air show is free and open to the public. Gates open at 8 a.m. each day with flying scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Gates will close at 5 p.m.