Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fighting fire at the Denver airplane crash

You can see the path of the plane and where it came to rest 200' behind an airport fire station.
Helen Richardson/Denver Post

You probably heard about the Boeing 737 that crashed while attempting to take off in Denver Saturday night at 6:20 p.m. MT. It had traveled about 2,000' down the 12,000' runway when something went terribly wrong and it veered off the runway and down into a low-lying area where the fuselage broke and the plane caught fire. A significant amount of debris was found on the runway. All of the passengers and the crew escaped without any major injuries. They huddled in the nearby airport fire station until they were transported to the terminal. At the time the temperature was 24-degrees and a crosswind was blowing at 31 mph.

The crash scene, showing the cracked-open fuselage, a broken-off engine, and frozen firefighting foam covering the wreckage. KUSA-TV

One of the passengers tried to call home right after the crash but the cell phone towers were overloaded and busy, so he began sending Twitter messages. It's interesting to read his viewpoint, HERE.

Below is an excerpt from an account in the LA Times from the firefighters' point of view.
....Firefighters converged on the west airfield, searching in the darkness for any sign of a plane and spotting smoke and flashes of fire in a gully beyond the runway. As they approached, the plane smoldered, and flames shot up 20 feet.

Passengers who had escaped down emergency slides were hiking toward them, some weeping, others eerily calm. Most shivered in their shirt sleeves in the single-digit temperatures; they'd abandoned their coats and bags in the cabin. They marched single file up a snowy hill toward the firefighters. One flight attendant had a sprained ankle and several had head injuries, but most were able to walk on their own, said Capt. Tom Gliver.

"It was surreal," said Bill Davis, an assistant fire chief and incident commander. "I'm thinking, 'It's really on fire. We're really doing this.' "

He said firefighters train daily for situations like this one, but none of them had experienced it, at least not at Denver International. They knew what to do: One group attacks the fire, another assists injured passengers, and another climbs inside the plane to search for survivors.

Cole, 37, clambered up the slide, which was already slick with foam that other firefighters sprayed on the plane, and he braced himself.

Preston Gannaway, Rocky Mountain News

"I was expecting the worst," he said.

So was Benton, 55, who entered after Cole. "I took a little pause. I thought, 'This is going to be terrible.' "

It was black within. Cole, breathing through an oxygen tank, started down the aisle on his knees, groping with gloved hands for anything that felt human. Outside, firefighters aimed foam at the plane, and the spray blasted through the skin of the aircraft, dousing Cole in the face.

An obstacle blocked the aisle, so he started climbing over the seats, running his hands over cushions, patting luggage. What he feared most, he said, was that a child was unconscious under a seat.

Benton followed holding a thermal imager, a device that looks like a camcorder and detects body heat. He pointed it down each row of seats. Nothing.

"I was overjoyed," he said later. "Not a soul was on that plane."

Thirty-eight people on the plane suffered broken bones, bruises and other injuries. It's unclear whether they were hurt on impact or when evacuating, National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said Sunday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article, Bill. Uncle Sam won't let me read the viewpoint from the passenger.

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