Daniel J. Benny, M.A., CPP, PCI, CLET, CPO, CSS
Aircraft accidents may occur at airports where equipment and procedures are in place to handle a variety of situations. However, many accidents occur in areas away from the airport or even in rural or remote areas where there may be a long response time for emergency services. They may even occur on or near property protected by a security department. Should you be a first responder to an accident, knowing what to do could save lives and affect the outcome of the crash investigation.
The role of the first responded is to help the injured, notify proper authorities, and secure the scene until further help arrives. Since aircraft accident accidents are handles and investigated differently then other type of accidents, the following procedures will provide for an effective response to best save lives, prevent further injury, protect property and preserve valuable evidence. The role of the first responded is to rescue, report and secure.(RRS)
Use caution in approaching the wreckage by vehicle or on foot, particularly if the approach is along the crash path as survivors may have been thrown from the aircraft and valuable evidence could be destroyed. Provide standard first-aid to survivors until you are relieved by medical personnel. If there is a post-crash fire or indications of the possibility of fire or explosion from fuel vapor, move survivors a safe distance away; otherwise do not disturb them except as necessary for first aid, but always insure the medical assistance is in route.
For safety from electrical or fire danger, turn off the aircraft's master or battery switch. It is usually located within the pilot's reach on the left bottom side of the instrument panel or the left bulkhead. The master switch is usually red and larger then the other switches. The battery switch may be a simple toggle switch. Other then these switches for safety, avoid moving any other instruments as they will me critical to the accident investigation.
Beware of the propeller. Even if the master switch and magneto switches are off, the engine may start it the propeller is moved. Different type of aircraft pose different hazards. Agricultural aircraft will carry hazardous materials and military aircraft should be considered armed. On military aircraft, do not touch anything in the cockpit. You could release the ejection seat or a weapon.
Contact 911 by cell phone or other emergency unites by radio or cell phone. The emergency unites which should respond would be police, medical and fire and coroner should there be fatalities. Caution the corner not to embalm any bodies. The FAA will provide a kit called a "Tool Box" for pathological and toxicological test. Should it be a large scale crash then the Red Cross and other community service organization will need to be notified.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) must also be contacted. The FSDO will notify the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and any other necessary federal agencies such as the FBI, FEMA or EPA.
The FSDO will need information about the aircraft. This will include the "N" number of the aircraft, accident location, a local contact, the number of injuries or fatalities and when the accident was reported or discovered. Even if you do not have all of this in formation, you must still call the FSDO as soon a possible.
The accident area must be secured and treated as a crime scene. Nothing should be moved or disturbed. No one is to be allowed inside the wreckage area other then those necessary for rescue and fire fighting. It is also important to establish a no smoking area because of potential fire danger and enforce it.
The only items which should be removed besides occupants is mail or other cargo to protect if from further damage. Log books and certificated can be removed if there is danger of damage before the FAA and NTSB investigators arrive. Anything removed must be protected as evidence and turned over to FAA or NTSB investigators. If it is necessary to disturb or move the aircraft or victims, take photographs, videotape or sketch their positions as to were they were found. Be sure to indicate impact marks.
If the news media arrive, provide them with only necessary information like the aircraft "N" number and the number of people involved. Do not release the names of victims or any identifiable markings.
The key to safe and effective first response to an air craft accident is to know the concepts of Rescue, Report and Security (RRS) and you will be able to provide a professional, safe and effective first response to the scene of an aircraft accident. This will preserve lives, property and the accident site for the conducting of a proper investigation by FAA, NTSB investigators or other federal agencies.