Texas Firefighters Respond to Plane Crash

At around 9:30 a.m. on April 11, a small plane took off from a Houston-area airport enroute to Mississippi for a turkey hunting trip. Approximately 50 miles into the trip a catastrophic event caused the plane to fall from the sky. At 10:27 a.m., Hardin County Texas 911 Center received a call from a pilot of a small plane that had just crashed.

The pilot could not tell the dispatcher where he was located. Cell phone tracking put him somewhere in Sour Lake Texas. Additional calls eventually came in from a crop duster giving a general location of the incident.

The pilot of the downed plane informed dispatchers that he was pinned in the plane and would need to be cut out. Southeast Texas Air Rescue was dispatched to the exact GPS location given from the crop duster. An oil pipeline helicopter soon arrived on scene and crewmembers provided first aid. The authority having jurisdiction (Hardin County Emergency Service District #5) is staffed by three volunteer fire departments (Pine Ridge VFD, Sour Lake VFD and Pinewood VFD) and has an ALS response transport ambulance. All departments were dispatched on a first alarm response to the scene.

Upon arrival of the first fire unit, an initial size-up was given. The reporting unit advised that the crash site was approximately 1,200 yards from the closest apparatus access point. The first unit to arrive was a four-wheel drive mini-pumper brush unit driven by senior firefighter Glenn Withers.

The second unit to arrive was the ALS ambulance driven by Station 2 Chief Steve Derbyshire, Navigating was the Station 3 assistant Chief Dustin and Medic Eva Joe. Chief Derbyshire Established command and had the initial response unit attempt to reach the crash site. The rescue pumper arrived next with two senior firefighters. Command was passed to Zeek Provost and Derbyshire moved forward to the crash site with one medic and assumed Operations Section Chief. Air rescue had landed at the crash site and was assessing the patient when the operations section chief arrived.

The mini-pumper was able to access the scene through a sloppy cow pasture, leaving a set of ruts approximately one mile long. This apparatus returned to the rescue pumper and retrieved minimal extrication equipment. An incident action plan was established by the Operations Section Chief to extricate the patient. Glenn Withers was assigned as a Safety Officer. Additional firefighters arrived in four-wheel drive trucks to assist.

Extrication was lengthy because the construction material of the airplane crumpled when bent by the spreaders. Cuts were made down both sides of the left wing to allow us to fold the material adjacent to the patient out of the way for removal. A KED was placed on the patient for spinal immobilization. The flight controls were cut off and the dash had to be raised to free the patient's legs. Reciprocating saws and air chisels were not practical due to the proximity of the patient to the material being disentangled.

The patient suffered from multiple broken bones including an ankle, his sternum, multiple ribs and toes and a broken back. Advanced life support was administered. The patient was packaged and loaded into SE Texas Air Rescue. He was transported to St. Elizabeth Trauma Center and is listed in critical condition.

Due to leaking aviation fuel, Class "B" AFFF foam was applied under and around the aircraft before the battery was removed. While removing the battery a spark was produced when the battery came in contact with the airplane shell. Operations ceased, the IAP was amended and foam lines were put in place. The decision was made to cut a 2" section out of the negative wire. The positive wire was then cut.

Long distances between staging and the crash site required that four-wheel drive trucks be used to move all personnel and equipment back and forth. Shannon Trahan was assigned Logistics Section Chief and coordinated all transportation and needs for the scene. The Operations Section Chief informed Incident Command that the scene was a Level 1 Haz-Mat scene and was endangering sensitive ecosystems. A Haz-Mat team was called to the scene and a Haz-Mat Group was established. The crash site is considered a breeding ground for an endangered rattlesnake and is considered wetlands. Mitigation efforts were delayed awaiting the arrival of state environmental officials and the FAA.

Proper use of the incident Management system allowed the local fire department to maintain control of their scene while working with private, county, state and federal agencies. Proper incident action plans allowed for a successful rescue without incident. A critique of the incident is scheduled for all responders. Items that will be addressed is preparing for access to isolated locations, resource acquisition procedures and specialty rescue PPE requirements.

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