‘Plane crash’ tests emergency services during Docklands training exercise

Passengers trapped in the fuselage are assessed by paramedics

Passengers trapped in the fuselage are assessed by paramedics - Credit: Archant

A grisly imaginary plane crash tested the skills of hundreds of firefighters, paramedics and police officers during London Fire Brigade’s largest emergency exercise to date.

Emergency crews at work during a training exercise - hosted by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) - in an

Emergency crews at work during a training exercise - hosted by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) - in and around a derelict Victorian flour mill known as Millennium Mills in Docklands, London. - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

The three-day “major incident” used a real fuselage from a Boeing 737 buried in 400 tonnes of rubble to simulate a plane crashing into a building.

A casualty with facial injuries is lead to safety

A casualty with facial injuries is lead to safety - Credit: Archant

Plane debris, luggage and dummies were strewn across the site at Millenium Mills in Silvertown to try and make the real-time exercise seem as convincing as possible - particularly eerie as it took place directly under City Airport’s flightpath.

A " casualty" is lowered from a ledge of The Milienium Mills buildling in a stretcher after suppos

A " casualty" is lowered from a ledge of The Milienium Mills buildling in a stretcher after supposedly being flung from the plane on impact. Credit; London Fire Brigade - Credit: Archant

Even bloodied amputee actors from Amputees in Action were involved to add to the realism, along with 100 casualties played by university students, including ten live casualties in the docks.

Each had a tag around their neck listing their injuries to test paramedics’ skills in prioritising those most in need of help and taking them to a clearing for specialised treatment.


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The 220 emergency service personnel who took part had no idea what they would be faced with during the exercise, which started on Saturday afternoon and continued until midday today.

Firefighters were first on the scene and had to break through padlocked gates to get into the site, before rushing to extinguish fires dotted around the site and calling for back-up from the emergency services.

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Day one focused on rescue, with the following two days concentrating on the collection of evidence, with police divers searching for black boxes.

A team from Urban Search and Rescue spent more than three hours drilling through the amassed rubble to ensure that no passengers were trapped inside the plane wreckage.

The vast crash site was created by a London Fire Brigade team of three in just five weeks, following nine months of planning.

Andrew Row, group manager in charge of operational proceedures (rescue), who lead the operation, said building the plane wreckage was a useful learning curve in itself - and vital in order to really test personel.

“We wanted to make this as realistic as possible, with a realistic number of casualties and a realistic envivronment to test the emergency services,” he said. “We have built the scale as large as we possibly can and made it complex to challenge.”

The emergency services are involved in simulated major incidents about twice a year and although this most recent test focused on the effects of a plane crash, skills learnt are transferrable to other disasters.

“The type of incident doesn’t really matter, what is crucial is that it tests,” Mr Row added.

The cost of putting on the exercise was kept to a minimum as the site was loaned for free by Greater London Authority and rubble was donated by construction company and contractor McGee, which has a depot in Royal Docks.

Structured debriefs will help improve responses in the event of a major incident occuring in the future.

London Fire Commissioner, Ron Dobson, said: “Air traffic incidents are extremely rare, but it is my responsibility to ensure that our fire and rescue teams, working with the other emergency services, are ready in the unlikely circumstance that something catastrophic were to occur with a plane in the capital.”

Director of Operations at London Ambulance Service, Jason Killens, said: “This exercise has been a valuable learning opportunity for our staff. Working in partnership with our emergency service colleagues, we have been able to test our equipment, systems and procedures for coping with a real life major incident like this.

Commander Peter Terry the head of Emergency Preparedness for the Met, said: “Major incident exercises like this one provide us with the perfect opportunity to practice and test our response with our partners in a realistic fast moving environment.

“They also allow us to examine what worked well and what difficulties we faced so we can take that learning and use it to improve our response and co-ordination when dealing with real live incidents in the future.”

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