Pittsburgh International Airport mock disaster tests response of crews


Aug. 27--Everyone had a role to play in Wednesday's mock disaster at Pittsburgh International Airport.

From the hundreds of emergency personnel who responded to more than 100 volunteers like Dave Briskey, a civil engineer from Marshall who portrayed one of the casualties in a mock runway collision involving a passenger jet and cargo plane on the Findlay airport's southernmost runway.

"I was going to my brother's house. I don't know what's going on," Briskey said repeatedly as he wandered around the crash site.

A police officer escorted Briskey to a nearby triage center. Briskey, 49, said later that the character he portrayed was nauseous and confused after the accident, but he survived.

But the victim portrayed by Briskey's daughter, 16-year-old Ashley, wasn't so lucky: She was one of 12 people who died in the mock disaster.

"One of the people (in the triage center) just looked at her and said, 'You died.' The girl next to her started laughing," Briskey said.

The drill was no laughing matter for Brian Colella, deputy chief of the Allegheny County Airport Authority Fire Department.

"Everyone hears about the crashes where no one survives, but 95 percent of all aircraft accidents are survivable," Colella said, noting those occurring before takeoff or after landing are often low-speed accidents. "It's important that we do things right."

Pittsburgh International is required by the Federal Aviation Administration to successfully complete disaster training at least once every three years. During a September 2006 drill, the authority staged a fire that occurred after a plane crashed into a terminal.

"The purpose of these exercises is to ensure that all airport personnel having duties and responsibilities under the (emergency response) plan are familiar with assignments and are properly trained," said FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac.

Pittsburgh's handling of the drill will be reviewed and, if necessary, the federal agency will make recommendations for the airport to follow to improve its response, Salac said.

Brad Penrod, executive director of the airport authority, said it was a coincidence that the disaster drill was conducted a month before the Group of 20 economic summit, which will be held Downtown on Sept. 24-25.

"We started planning for this in January," Penrod said. "But at the same time, with all the planning activities we've been doing with this (mock disaster), I think we'll be just that much better prepared for G-20."

Penrod said the authority is finalizing plans for parking the 50 to 60 planes that are expected to carry heads of state, finance ministers and their staffs to Pittsburgh.

It remains unclear how much revenue the arrival of those planes will generate for the authority, Penrod said. All planes aside from ones owned by the U.S. government will be assessed landing fees like ones commercial airlines must pay.