Disaster Drills Prepare Grand Canyon Airport for the Unimaginable

A downed airplane, purchased for $600 from an airplane graveyard got a second
chance to help save lives on August 30 th, 2019.

The officials at the Grand Canyon Airport in Tusayan knows that the best way to
prepare for the unimaginable is to simulate such a dire situation. Therefore, to help
ready first responders for a situation that no one could predict, the airport staged a
simulated disaster scene at the airport.

“Today’s scenario will be a De Havilland Canada Dash 8 conducting a crash landing off
the west side of the runway while inbound for a landing on runway 21,” explained
Robert Youngblood, training officer for Grand Canyon National Park Airport, during a
briefing with first responders. “While making final approach everything about the
airplane landing appeared to be fine. As the aircraft was getting closer to touchdown an
object appeared to fall from the aircraft. The aircraft veered off to the west and was
unable to regain lift while aborting the landing and crashed.”

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Taking this briefing to heart, spectators would never know that this was staged. It was
clear that the adrenaline was pumping, and the first responders were doing their very
best, just like this was a real emergency.

To help add realism to the setup, twenty-five volunteers played the role of wounded
passengers. The goal of the drill was to locate each person, get them accounted for,
and assign triaged tags which assessed and classified their condition.

It was an interesting drill. The setup prepared EMS for the possibility of a real
emergency and it provided the opportunity to see how local, state, national, and regional
agencies worked together. If this unfortunate situation, or something similar were to
happen in real life, it was nice to know that the agencies would be able to work together
to save the maximum amount of lives.

Of course, the Grand Canyon National Park Airport and Arizona Department of
Transportation (ADOT) participated in the drill. Yet, there were many other agencies
participating as well. These agencies included: Coconino Emergency Management,

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Tusayan Fire Department, the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Forestry Service,
and Coconino County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Additionally,
the Tusayan Fire Department participated as a local partner.
Ryan Harding, a public information officer for Arizona Department of Transportation
(ADOT), these types of drills are scheduled every three years. That way, the involved
agencies can try to fix any issues and assess performance before there is a real

“Participating in a multi-agency training is incredibly beneficial to those of us in a rural
setting,” said Molly Woolley, a career firefighter with Tusayan Fire. “We do not respond
to as many emergencies as bigger cities, (but) events can still occur in our area so it’s
important to be prepared for anything. Training together is one of the best things we can do.”