Recently we heard of a light twin engine airplane off the end of a residential airpark runway. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the airplane suffered extensive damage. There was no fire. No personal property, other than the plane, was damaged or threatened. No homes on the airpark or adjacent to it were threatened in any way, nor were any individuals.
In the aftermath of the incident, several issues came up, none of which the residents and owners of the airpark had previously addressed.
After the aircraft went off the end of the runway, the local law enforcement agencies were called by someone as was the fire department. The news media, hearing the police and fire department dispatchers sending vehicles to the scene of an “airplane crash,” converged on the site.
The emergency vehicles – several police cars and a couple fire trucks – came roaring onto the airport property down the runway and taxiway. They were followed in short order by the news media, TV and newspaper reporters, and even some freelance photographers complete with video cameras and still cameras.
When they congregated in the yard of the property owner closest to the scene of the incident, the property owner asked several to move because they were tearing up his yard which was soft because of lots of rain. The police advised the individual the media could be there even if it was private property.
This particular airpark didn’t have any prepared plan for dealing with accidents or incidents on the airpark property or immediately adjacent to the property. No one individual was authorized to speak for the airpark. There was no arrangement for dealing with law enforcement agencies, fire departments or the media.
Preparing for such eventualities can help you in several ways.
We all know that non-aviation people have little if any information about general aviation aircraft. They all think aviation fuel is more volatile than regular auto gas and that airplanes will explode at any moment.
With such ideas indelibly etched into their minds because of movies and TV shows, it is no wonder that these departments step in with actions that are overkill.
With prepared disaster plans, airpark residents can have a better opportunity to address these concerns and have more input into situations. Such a plan will probably help preserve the airplane and lessen further damage that can be caused by well meaning emergency personnel.
An emergency plan should include items like who to call for specific types of emergencies. A list of authorized spokesmen. It should include plans for dealing with media and other types of vehicular traffic and pedestrians.
Contacting the fire department and police agency for their assistance in developing such a plan will probably help you get the job done more easily. Another way of preparing such a plan is to contact the manager of the nearest airport with an operating control tower. They will have a written disaster plan that you can adapt to your own uses.
Working with, the emergency crews is a given, but by having someone who is prepared to deal with them and explain different situations to them will help everyone.
At the same time, a person who is prepared and able to deal with the media in a fair and honest manner will help lessen any negative impact that might occur from such an accident. You should always be truthful with members of the media and try to provide them all the information that is pertinent. Being helpful and courteous, even though many of the TV and newspaper people seem abrupt and rude, will help insure that your coverage will be less negative.
Remember, those media people are just trying to do a job and often they are working against a tight time schedule. And, of course, the public is fascinated by airplane accidents and the reason is that they are so rare. You’ll fare much better giving members of the media immediate access and assistance rather than trying to block them out and hinder their efforts.