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21 Sep, 2007 04:34

Airport rescuers train for the worst

Large-scale emergency exercises have been held at Moscow's Sheremetevo airport. Rescue services, as well as representatives from Russia's Emergencies Ministry, the FSB and police, were involved.

Just a few days ago a helicopter caught fire in Moscow shortly after a crash-landing due to technical difficulties. Firemen, police and Emergencies Ministry investigators arrived after the fire was put out.  

Fortunately, on that occasion there was no need for them to rescue people and there were no casualties.  All seven on board – two crew members and five passengers managed to escape.  

But it could have been far worse, as the helicopter landed on a building site about 600 metres from Moscow's busy Ring Road during rush hour.

So rescuers always need to be prepared for the worst. With monthly training exercises like the one at Moscow's Sheremetevo airport, this goal may be easier to achieve.  

According to the scenario, a plane with more than a hundred passengers on board has caught fire during take-off. Two of its engines and the cargo hold are supposed to be on fire, with smoke getting into the cabin.

“All emergency and rescue equipment is situated within three minutes from any given point of the airfield. It’s ready for use. There is a very high and tough standard to maintain. That’s why we practice daily and make sure we are prepared to deal with any emergencies in real life,” explains Aleksandr Rubtsov from the Sheremetevo rescue service.

Indeed, it really took three minutes for fire-brigades to arrive at the scene. People were evacuated from the aircraft with the help of emergency slides. Paramedics and rescuers took care of those supposedly injured.  

And the organizers of the exercises say the situation was as close to a real emergency as possible.

“I don't feel that it's something fake. Real fire, which we've really extinguished. We do it very often as it prepares us for a real emergency,” says one of the fire-fighters.

“It's more than an exercise. The scenario is very life-like. It really happens and it is really dangerous,” commented Mikhail Vasilenko, Sheremetyevo Airport GM.

Last year three plane accidents occurred in Russia, the worst in July 2006. An Airbus veered off a runway and caught fire while landing in the Siberian city of Irkutsk.  Eight crew members and 192 passengers, including a group of children on holiday, were killed.

During the drills at Moscow's  Sheremetyevo Airport the rescue services were seriously tested. Now the challenge is to maintain these standards during a real emergency.