SFO Simulated Air Crash Exercise

On October 12, I volunteered as an air crash victim for a multi-agency emergency response exercise at San Francisco International Airport. It was interesting to see how the agencies coordinated and responded to a mass casualty scenario. Here are the scenarios and a few photos from the day.


  • Review procedures and effectiveness of coordination between responding agencies.
  • Train personnel on equipment that may not be standard to their agency.

Note: This was not a real-time exercise. Responders did not act with speed, did not carry “injured” passengers off the plane in order to prevent injury to responders and volunteers, and the exercise was paused occasionally to make sure each part of the process was executed and understood.

Exercise scenario:
A Boeing 767-300 is landing on Runway 28R at SFO. As it slows to taxi speed, an Embraer ERJ-135 is taking off too soon on intersecting runway 1L. The regional jet does not have time to gain altitude enough to clear the 767 and shears off the top of the Boeing’s fuselage. The Boeing rolls to a stop while the Embraer loses hydraulics but remains level, landing on its belly at the end of 1L.

Personal scenario:
Inside the 767, I sustain a flail chest injury. I have severe chest pain, can only draw extremely shallow breaths and am hyperventilating. I can understand instructions but am too weak to walk. My injuries are life threatening.

The exercise:
Crash victim volunteers boarded the airport’s training plane, which is a Boeing 767-300 retired from service by ANA.


Inside the plane, we sat, many passengers wearing moulage (fake injury makeup), waiting for the exercise to start.


Once the exercise began, those who were able to walk as described in their roles evacuated the plane, and responders came on board to assess those who could not walk. The volunteers each had a sticker on our shirts detailingĀ  injuries and vital signs and the responders tied triage ribbons on our wrists according to our conditions, to prioritize how soon we were attended to. I was “red” – life threatening injuries, immediate transport needed.


Other passengers were tagged yellow – injured and needing transport, but on a delayed basis due to non-life-threatening injuries. We walked off the plane and sat on the tarmac near the back of the plane, sorted into our triage groups. (The walking wounded would have gotten green tags as they were checked out, and two full-sized dummies off toward the front of the plane were tagged with black and white striped ribbons, signifying they were deceased.)


Orange litters and litter wheels were carried to each triage group and those of us with red ribbons were strapped on first and rolled to a waiting bank of ambulances a safe distance from the crash scene. Eventually, everyone tagged as injured was transported.


Friend and coworker Jon was also a volunteer and captured this shot of me being rolled away.

I was loaded into an ambulance with another victim in life threatening condition, ready to head to “San Francisco General,” aka the SuperBay Hangar near the exercise site.


I was tagged with a triage tag in the ambulance. In a real emergency, the wrist bandĀ  would have been detached and placed on my wrist. The missing components of the tag would be left at the scene so those on site would know who was transported, where they were taken, and their initial medical assessment.



At the “hospital,” we were offloaded onto the ground on our litters and unstrapped. We completed a survey about our experience and were free to go or stay for sandwiches after the exercise was completed. Being the first off the scene, I stuck around for a little while and then went on my way.

Here are a few empty litters and an ambulance offloading less-injured victims.



This was the mobile command unit on scene for the exercise.


The exercise, which takes place every year, went very smoothly. Each year, a different scenario is created (one year, a plane went into the bay so water rescue was simulated) to give area agencies a chance to run through their procedures for many different conditions.

The exercise coordinators were organized, fun and very appreciative of everyone’s time. If you get a chance to volunteer for emergency response teams, I recommend it. It’s fascinating to see the inside details of a response, and it helps responders be better prepared to protect you in a real emergency.




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