EVERETT — Every third year, Paine Field prepares for the worst.
Local police and firefighters practice what to do in a deadly plane crash. On Tuesday, they rushed to the Snohomish County airport to rescue high school drama students who played the role of passengers.
The training came after Alaska Airlines and United Airlines announced plans to offer commercial flights there. One of those flights can transport dozens of people.
“We thankfully don’t have many plane crashes,” airport director Arif Ghouse said. “That also means people don’t respond to these often.”
A small, single-engine plane took off from Paine Field. The pilot ascended 400 feet and lost power. On its way down the plane clipped power lines, struck a traffic light and landed on a fortunately empty Harbor Pointe Boulevard. The two people inside were able to crawl out of the crunched aircraft on their own.
Many planes that take off at Paine Field are these small aircraft carrying just a few passengers.
That might change next fall.
Alaska Airlines plans to offer at least nine daily flights. United plans six flights per day. Construction on a new passenger terminal began in June.
The airport expects to hire additional firefighters before people begin booking seats. Paine Field is required to staff a certain number of firefighters depending on the number of passengers. A team of 13 currently work on site, Ghouse said.
They were joined Tuesday by police and fire departments around the county. The Naval Station in Everett, American Red Cross, the Medical Reserve Corps and others also helped. They rescued 60 students who had been on a fictitious flight from Los Angeles.
“When we have planes that carry a lot of people, it adds urgency,” Ghouse said.
The morning fog from Puget Sound delayed firefighters. They have no more than three minutes to get to the crash, Ghouse said. The team was waiting for someone in the tower to feed them information about what was happening. That person struggled to see through the low-hanging clouds.
According to the drill scenario, a plane crashed on the runway and veered on to a nearby taxiway. The plane Tuesday was towed on to the taxiway for the purpose of the drill. Every detail down to each passenger’s injuries had been planned.
A moulage group painted faux injuries on the student actors from Granite Falls. Paramedics practiced triaging passengers based on the severity of their conditions.
A young boy who was visiting the Future of Flight museum spotted the emergency lights. The curious boy stood on a grassy hill overlooking the taxiway where fire engines, police cars and ambulances were lined up behind a wrecked plane.
“We want people to know we’re prepared and ready to respond when we need to,” Ghouse said.
Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins @heraldnet.com.