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It’s a scenario which emergency officials hope they never have to see, but one they want to be prepared for anyway. What would happen if an airplane were hijacked at the Springfield-Branson National Airport? KSMU’s Jennifer Moore attended a drill Wednesday afternoon designed to answer that question.
Reporter standup: “Right now, I’m on the tarmac here at the airport, standing about 50 yards from a large, military plane belonging to the Missouri National Guard. This plane will serve as the mock hijacked plane in today’s drill. And any minute now, a staged phone call will be placed to the airport office, notifying officials that a plane has been ‘hijacked,’ and that it’s stopping in Springfield to refuel. This mock phone call will actually set the emergency drill in motion.”
“Our goal, from the airport, is to respond to the emergency,” says Gary Cyr, director of aviation at the airport. He says the airport is required by the Federal Aviation Administration to hold regular emergency drills like this one.
He said there were many health, law enforcement, and emergency agencies involved in the drill, each with a component they wanted to test.
Shortly after that initial phone call is made, airport officials begin holding mock negotiations with the hijacker. The actor playing the role of hijacker for today’s drill is, in real life, a negotiator for the Springfield Police Department.
Cyr says since September 11, 2001 hijackings, airports have had to change their approach to such situations, since hijackers on that day proved they were willing to even kill themselves to carry out their objectives.
He said he can’t share what different approaches airport staff would take now as opposed to before those attacks.
Journalists were not allowed inside the mock negotiations room. After about an hour, we began to see some movement.
Volunteer actors took their places in and around the aircraft, wearing stage makeup to appear bruised and bloody. Then, emergency responders will come and attend to them like they would in a real-life scenario.
Cyr says in past drills, the biggest challenge has been a breakdown of communication between the various agencies.
For this drill the response crews are all using an emergency 800 MgHz radio system to talk to each other.
To save money, this year’s drill did not include airlifting or driving any actors to the hospital.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.