News: MCAS Yuma personnel tested in aviation mishap drill
Story by Lance Cpl. James Marchetti
YUMA, Ariz. - On the flight line and inside the perimeter of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Marines and sailors with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron participated in an intensive aviation mishap drill Oct. 23.
Captain David E. Coleman, the MCAS Yuma aviation safety officer, said he developed this large-scale drill to utilize a plethora of the station’s assets. With more units in the mix, Coleman planned on exposing base personnel to the multitude of disaster response capabilities available, while teaching personnel how to maximize their combined efforts through multi-unit teamwork.
“This drill exercised all of the major muscles around the base- everything, from initial response, to investigation, to recovery of the aircraft, all the way through restoring the site after the incident,” said Coleman. “Whether Marines conducted a decision game and discussion of the scenario or were in full gear fighting the fire, everyone was involved. Everyone was able to see things actually happening and understand everything better by being on scene together instead of just reading about it in the safety order.”
Minutes after the mock crash had been confirmed due to a possible landing gear failure, the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting unit on station arrived at the site to eradicate the danger posed by the smoking aircraft.
With no time to waste, a swarm of ARFF Marines clad in white jumpsuits, made a beeline toward the smoldering aircraft’s side hatch, hosing everything in their path. Within moments, ARFF eliminated the aircraft and its vicinity of flames, fumes and all potential threats.
The smooth response ARFF executed was no fluke, exclaimed Staff. Sgt Andrew Honeycutt, the assistant section one leader of ARFF.
“When we’re in stand-by and waiting to react to an emergency, we’re always training for stuff like this,” said Honeycutt. “We’re firm believers in our training; practice makes perfect. When we train enough, it is muscle memory for us. We go in and do our job… and we don’t even have to think about it.”
Navy corpsmen with the Branch Medical Clinic played the next crucial role in the exercise. The medical personnel collaborated with ARFF and evacuated the three survivors on board the aircraft to safety. They then conducted forensic testing on the deceased and took blood draws from everybody involved in the crash to gain a better understanding as to how and why the mishap occurred. This is standard operating procedure during the conduct of a safety investigation.
For Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Purvis, an aviation medicine technician with the Branch Medical Clinic, this scenario was a first. Having never conducted a training exercise on the flight line, Purvis commended the assistance he received from base personnel in bringing him out to the crash site, allowing his mission to run smoothly following a timely arrival.
“For us, as corpsmen, we don’t get to go out to the flight line very much, but Base Ops and ARFF were able to escort us out there in a way that was easy for us,” said Purvis. “That way, if we do have to have to do that ourselves next time, we have an idea as to how to get on the airfield, the specific route to take, and how to call everything in when we’re going on the airfield.”
Purvis believes that solid communication between the involved units allowed his mission to be accomplished as efficiently and swiftly as possible.
Though procedures and protocols for different sections can sometimes conflict with one another, Purvis assures that this was not the case in the training exercise. The various sections worked hand-in-hand, easing the burdens and work load for their fellow Marines and sailors.
“The communication aspect was very good... we knew before we even got to the site how many patients there were, how many were dead and how many were alive,” said Purvis. “We were able to arrive on scene 18 minutes after the incident happened, which is a pretty good response time, considering we had to get our medical kit together along with the vehicle to get out there.”
Most importantly, in terms of unit cohesion, this training exercise gave participating personnel a newfound confidence in those who supported them in this stressful simulation.
“ARFF, the rescue firefighters, take care of the first response. A lot of the time, as corpsmen, we think we are the first response, but in this case, we’re not,” said Purvis. “We’re there to support and send reports and get histories so we can figure out why the aircraft went down. Even when we get into the aircraft after the fire is put out they’re still behind us in case there’s flashback. They’re essential in keeping us safe.”
Now that the training has been completed, it is important for the personnel involved to take what they learned back to their shops and constantly improve their procedures in preparation for a real crash.
“I always tell my Marines that we can always do better, and nothing’s ever going to be perfect,” said Honeycutt, a Murfreesboro, Tenn., native. “No emergency will ever be run perfectly, and that’s why we do these drills. To fix up all those miscues so that the next drill, or even an actual emergency, runs perfectly.”