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By Adia Wynter

Flights into the country were put on hold for several hours yesterday morning to accommodate an airplane crash simulation at VC Bird International Airport.

The exercise was organised through a collaborative effort of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS), the Antigua Barbuda Airport Authority (ABAA), EMS and other government agencies to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current standard procedures.

Philmore Mullin, Director of NODS, acted as the exercise director for the simulation.

“For the most part, the exercise was – on a scale of one to 10 – I will give them a six… The fact of the matter is, there are some challenges that have been going on for many, many years that need to be addressed,” he told media.

Mullin further noted that one important challenge faced in the exercise was communication.

“A lot of things did not happen as quickly as they could have, and that is because the information did not get to the responding agencies in time because of the communication challenges, but once the information eventually got to them, things started moving,” he explained.

The exercise was conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the safety of the victims of the crash as well as the responders to the scene were well accommodated for.

Mullin explained, “The responding agencies all showed up with their masks, and that’s good. From the same units, some of them did try their best to maintain [social distancing]. In some cases, it just wasn’t possible based on what they were required to do.”

“The EMS as well did practice social distancing to some extent. However, where you have a situation where two persons are working on the same victim, that is just not possible but they were wearing their masks,” Mullin added.

Avery Henry, director of safety and security at the airport, mentioned that the last simulation took place in 2017.

 According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, every country is obligated to conduct a full-scale exercise every two years with a tabletop exercise to allow for discussions in the subsequent year.

Henry stated, “We are in violation of that, so now we will be clearing our deficiencies and our noncompliance as far as the International Civil Aviation Organisation is concerned.”

He added, “This exercise came at a time when Covid and social distancing was challenging for us, so it was real timely, and I think, under the circumstances, it went really well.”

The scenario given was said to involve a 727 aircraft that had veered off the runway, with 151 souls on board including 11 crew members.

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