2014 AIR DISASTER DRILL
ARNOLD PALMER REGIONAL AIRPORT
My husband Monte finally had what he wanted—my head. Unfortunately, he couldn’t appreciate my gift. His body was laying in a field of forage grass, a short distance from where my head rolled after the airplane crash that decapitated me. The plane wreckage was burning on a short runway nearby, at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
How did we get into this predicament?
In early May there was a call for 100 persons to participate in the an airplane disaster exercise on May 29, 2014.
“Monte, this looks like fun,” I said. “It’s something quite different from our usual activities.”
I convinced both Monte and my 16-year-old granddaughter, Jordan, to participate. Jordan wants to be an EMT, so this would be a good experience for her.
The May 29th newspaper had a blurb in it, warning motorists about the Air Disaster Drill at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. Perhaps the airport nor the organizers of the event wanted people calling 911 when they saw the “plane crash.”
“Gee,” I told Monte when I read we might be crash victims until after 10:00 p. m. “That’s pretty late. Jordan has school tomorrow.”
Midday brought steady rain. I dressed in long pants, a sweat shirt, and carried a jacket, figuring I was going to get cold and wet.
Regardless, we left for the airport in time to arrive between 5:00 and 5:15 p.m. En route I learned that Jordan was tired, had not eaten, and didn’t want to stop for a fast-food meal. The next day she had an early morning assembly and a late afternoon final exam. Not good.
En route the rain let up. Dark clouds gave way to blue skies and sun peeking through white clouds.
Traffic was heavy at the airport. “I’ve never ran into this much traffic at this intersection,” Monte said.
At the airport we joined a long line. Jordan’s name was listed, but it didn’t matter. She had the proper paperwork. We were assigned numbers 56, 57, and 58.
I asked a few questions.
“Can we take pictures?” Yes.
“Can we leave early if necessary?” Yes.
Monte asked about “natural breaks.” The woman didn’t understand what he meant. I didn’t either. It’s a term for pottie calls.
Volunteers included family, friendship, and work groups, and several younger children. Many had involvement with county emergency personnel. Monte introduced me to David Brenner from Waterford, and we spoke about his involvement in the post-911 Flight 93 crash.
After boarding a shuttle bus I was standing in the back. A woman about 49-years-old offered me her seat (do I look I that old???). Her 8-year-old son Collin was with her. I said no, but then Collin, offered me his seat. I took the seat, crowding in with the other adults, giving him the opportunity to be polite.
After being seated we were told that only persons numbered 1-35 should be on this bus. The second bus boarded by a group wearing T-shirts saying Westmoreland County Young Marines.
At 5:45 p. m. on a nice, breezy summer evening. I was overdressed, waiting for the bus.
While waiting Jordan and I spoke with the Director of Operations at Mutual Aid, Bill Groft, who encouraged her to enroll in the summer EMT training program. I also spoke with Greg from Marguarite and Robert Palmer from Trauger (they didn’t know each other).
The bus came and shuttled us to a grassy field, where we received our assignments:
- Carolyn: Female, 14, a complete decapitation. the two sections within one foot of each other. A piece of the fuselage is between both sections. There is major blood loss that has pooled around the body. There are long bones fractures noted to the right leg and arm.
- Monte: Male, 34. EMS assessed the patient as a male with multiple penetrating wounds that are mainly through and through to the chest. There was massive hemorrhaging from all wounds, mouth, and nose. The patient was initially responsive with severe dyspnea, cyanosis, no palpable pulses or blood pressure. The patient became unresponsive.
- Jordan: Female, 92. Massive crush injury to the cranium from a seat. there is a left to right depression of approx. 3 inches. Both eyes are dislodged from the sockets. There is gray matter protruding from the mouth, eyes, and a large “blow out fracture” on the right occipital area. The rest of the body shows minor fractures of hands and feet.
While waiting for the plane accident Robert said he might as well look for a four leaf clover.
“Are you Irish?” I asked.
Amazingly, he immediately found a four leaf clover.
We watched as the “disaster” unfolded repeatedly and groups of fire departments raced in to deal with it.
Robert lay very still, very dead-like, waiting for the paramedics.
“You’re dead, you can’t raise your head” I said.
“I had a bug on my nose. I have a piece of wreckage that goes through my chest into the ground. I thought they’d save me.”
Someone said “I’m surprised they didn’t tag us. We’re all dead.”
“There’s always a miracle,” Jordan said, who watched the plane and played on an electronics gadget. “I think I might as well be dead anyway. I’m 92.”
“Right,” Robert said. “They didn’t take a pulse or anything.”
“Maybe if you’re used to seeing death you know,” Greg said.
Several groups of medics examined us. I lay down when they neared, saying “decapitation” as I ran my hand across my throat. They responded “Nothing we can do for you.”
Monte lay very still and quiet in the grass, playing his role very well (or was he napping?). He commented that at least the emergency personnel “could say a prayer over us as they pass by.”
“I hoped they take me out on a backboard pulled by an ATV,” I said. Jordan didn’t care to do that. I told her it would be a good experience, and she reminded me of the time the ambulance took her to the hospital on a gurney.
“They’ll have to bring in a backhoe to remove all our bodies,” Robert said.
“They may come in with a flatbed and roll us out,” Monte said.
While we waited for the coroner I asked Robert and Greg why they volunteered.
“I’m all for community for what the community will do to help themselves,” Robert said.
“I saw the sign and that it would be neat and we do things for the community,” Greg said.
After we were seen by the coroner, who placed a yellow flag by our “bodies,” I had my first ATV ride from the field to the road.
There we were given a hoagie, potato chips, and bottled water. I spoke again with Collin, who said he had to play dead in the field.
All in all, a pleasurable late May evening doing something different. And I’m glad my decapitation was role playing. I wouldn’t want Monte to have my head, on a silver platter or any other way.
(Special note to my friend Becky: Sorry, my head got lopped off. I know you wanted it done to Monte but…the assignment was what it was…)