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Ontario Airport Crisis Is Just Drill

May 09, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

The scene was choreographed, but the concern was real.

Ontario International Airport officials, carrying out an emergency-preparedness drill mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, staged a mock crisis at the old terminal Thursday.

The scenario: A large passenger jet carrying more than 50 people had touched down after experiencing left-side landing gear failure. Fuel was spilling. Passengers were evacuating on slides. There were injuries, some requiring helicopter transport.

The drill involved 65 emergency workers, 16 vehicles, a hazardous-materials unit and about 60 volunteers.

Afterward, a debriefing was conducted in private to assess the handling of the emergency. Airport executives are responsible for filing a report about the drill to the FAA.

"All of the evaluators who've come past me have given me a thumbs-up, so I think we did well," said Kim Ellis, the airport's chief of operations.

The airport has expanded into a new terminal since its last major runway problem, the 1997 emergency landing of a Burbank-bound Southwest Airlines jet that experienced left-side landing gear failure. Fire trucks applied fire-retardant foam to the plane's left wing soon after touchdown, and no flames erupted when the wing slightly scraped the ground. Awaiting buses then quickly took the passengers to Burbank.

"If the big one happens, we have to be out there responding to whatever emergency in three minutes," said Ontario Airport Fire Capt. Robert Helsom, who served as incident commander of Thursday's drill. "If anything had me wondering about how we'd do, it was about our ability to form a unified group with so many outside agencies to accomplish the goal. We felt it went well."

Helsom said the only glitches were what he called minor communication problems. He said officials sometimes had trouble reaching him by radio.

"We all know our jobs and our responsibilities," said Ontario Airport Fire Capt. Mike Allomong. "We know what to do."

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