Plane Crash & Tanker Fire: 2 Disasters In 24 Hours Test Metro-Dade Units

LaVerne Guillen describes two major incidents that occurred one day and just two miles apart.


What are the odds against two major incidents occurring within 24 hours just outside an international airport? Metro-Dade Fire Rescue firefighters based at Miami International Airport (MIA) still don't know the answer. But they do know that their training and readiness paid off when they...


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What are the odds against two major incidents occurring within 24 hours just outside an international airport? Metro-Dade Fire Rescue firefighters based at Miami International Airport (MIA) still don't know the answer. But they do know that their training and readiness paid off when they responded on two consecutive days to scenes just two miles apart.

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Photo by Lt. Lenny Platteis/Metro-Dade Fire Rescue
The downed plane burns before the arrival of the first units. The crash killed the plane's four crew members and one person on the ground.

 


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Photo by Lt. Lenny Platteis/Metro-Dade Fire Rescue
Firefighters contained the blaze and protected several exposed commercial buildings and their occupants.

 

Aug. 7, 1997, 12:37 P.M.: Fine Air Flight 101 crashes. In addition to four foam trucks, an engine, a rescue unit and a battalion chief from the airport station, numerous other suppression and support units were dispatched. More than 100 firefighters responded to NW 72nd Avenue and 29th Street in unincorporated Dade County where a DC-8 cargo jet had crashed after takeoff from MIA. Mutual-aid units from the City of Miami also assisted.

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Photo by Lt. Lenny Platteis/Metro-Dade Fire Rescue
The fire was fed by wreckage, fuel and textile cargo spread over a 450-foot stretch of roadway and a parking lot.

The plane plummeted in an industrial area northwest of the airport, barely averting hanging power lines and breaking apart at the edge of an occupied multi-storefront warehouse. All four persons aboard perished. Another fatality on the ground was discovered a day later.

Airport foam vehicles, supported by operations crews, attacked the raging fire, which was being fed by wreckage, fuel and textile cargo spread over a 450-foot stretch of roadway and a parking lot. The coordinated response of the units helped to contain the blaze, thus protecting exposed commercial buildings and their occupants. Efforts were also directed at searching the storefronts for possible victims; none were found. To locate the bodies of the plane's crew, the Metro-Dade canine unit was deployed the day after the crash.

Aug. 8, 1997, 12:27 P.M.: Overturned gasoline tanker ignites. More than 50 firefighters responded to the Dolphin Expressway (State Route 836) westbound at NW 57th Avenue in Dade County after a gasoline tanker truck swerved to avoid a car, struck a guardrail and overturned. This major east-west artery just south of MIA handles 161,000 vehicles each day and is a vital connector to the airport entrance.

Because the tanker was at 90% capacity (carrying 9,200 gallons of gasoline), it became fully involved instantaneously. The huge amount of gasoline created an impassable 50-foot-high wall of fire, forcing units to attack the blaze from multiple locations. Flames shot over the roadway embankment, creating a large brushfire and threatening an adjacent restaurant during a busy lunchtime. Again, the foam trucks played a major role in suppressing the fire, allowing other ground crews to access the scene and extinguish the blaze.

The 56-year-old tanker driver had been pulled out by two passersby and was transported to the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Burn Center in critical condition by Metro-Dade Fire Rescue. He died on Sept. 10 from severe burns. Fire damage to the roadway from the intense heat shut down State Route 836 westbound for 24 hours.

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Photo by Lt. Roman Bas/Metro-Dade Fire Rescue
A 50-foot-high wall of fire forced units to attack from multiple locations.

 


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Photo by Lt. Luis Fernandez/Metro-Dade Fire Rescue
Foam trucks played a major role in suppressing the fire, allowing other ground crews to reach the scene and extinguish the blaze.

 


LaVerne Guillen is a public information officer for Metro-Dade Fire Rescue in Florida, where she has worked for the past nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Florida International University.