Harrison County

Here’s how first responders prepared for a possible plane crash at the Thunderbirds air show

Thousands of people are set to flood Biloxi’s beaches as Thunder Over the Sound performers take to the skies this weekend, and first responders are more prepared after a joint training exercise.

Keesler Air Force Base and the City of Biloxi held a training April 17 to learn how to handle a worst-case scenario: two planes crashing into each other.

“These practice sessions allow us to clear communication in case the real call comes in,” Biloxi Fire Department Deputy Chief Andy Mason said. “We’re going to be a combined response unit with Keesler and a lot of other local agencies to help us out just in case.”

Mason said the Federal Aviation Administration requires the Air Force to do the emergency exercises, so the city decided to participate.

In the scenario, two jet planes collide in mid-air, with one crashing on the beach and one at the Elk Lodge.

Volunteers posed as injured and killed civilians with a variety of injuries, from amputated arms to broken legs complete with realistic-looking wounds.

The Elk’s Lodge parking lot was filled with emergency vehicles including police, fire trucks and ambulances that were working and communicating with local hospitals to transport and treat the volunteer patients.

When catastrophic events with mass casualties and injuries occur, emergency responders use a triage system. Crews will first go into the affected areas with four color-coded cards and determine every victim’s status.

“We have to save the greatest number of people we can,” Biloxi firefighter Matthew Bigelow said. “We assess respiration, pulse and mental status to determine which category they fit in.”

Although the exercise is meant to train and prepare first responders and Keesler for the worst, Mason said that the fear of something bad happening shouldn’t hinder visitors and locals from enjoying the airshow. The exercises are meant to ensure that first responders will be ready, no matter what happens.

“You’ve got to practice like you want to perform,” Mason said. “It prepares us for the worst-case scenario. When we practice for the worst, hopefully it’ll never be this bad.”

Alyssa Newton is an award-winning multimedia journalist with a background in television, radio and print. She’s originally from Dothan, Alabama and has a journalism degree from the University of South Alabama in Mobile. Her passion lies in storytelling, news, sports and a strong espresso.