SPRINGBROOK — On the tarmac at Red Deer Regional Airport on Wednesday, police and other emergency responders tested their ability to handle an emergency that could be pulled out of international headlines.
A bomb has been reported on a plane carrying nine passengers and two crew, all now being held hostage by an unknown armed assailant.
Over the next few hours, emergency workers will try to find a way to end the standoff safely and defuse the bomb.
Liam O’Connell, CEO of Red Deer Regional Airport, said Transport Canada requires annual emergency drills, and every third year the exercise must be live.
What that meant on Wednesday was nearly four dozen RCMP, county firefighters and patrol officers, airport staff, search and rescue volunteers, and staff from NavCanada and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority were gathered to face the unknown.
“Most of the folks coming into this don’t know the scenario,” said O’Connell. “What we do is keep adding to the scenario so every agency is involved.”
Air Spray recruited two crew members and donated one of their Lockheed Electra water tankers for the exercise. Volunteer Red Deer County firefighters stepped in as passengers on the ill-fated flight from Fort McMurray. Since the airport remained open, the local flying clubhouse was converted into a makeshift control tower and centre of operations.
As the operation got underway, an RCMP negotiator established contact with the cockpit and was assured that everyone was safe, but that every word of their conversation was being heard by the hostage taker.
Outside the tower, the RCMP’s bomb unit truck was parked and emergency response team members from Red Deer RCMP huddled to discuss their next steps. A bomb-sniffing dog was also available.
The plane was parked just off the runway behind a hangar and media invited to the airport were prohibited from taking any images that might give away police tactics.
Ric Henderson, the county’s director of planning and protective services, said the main goal of these kinds of exercises is test the ability of various agencies to communicate with each other and co-ordinate their efforts.
Ways to improve the response were identified and will be discussed in a debriefing that will follow.
Red Deer Rural RCMP Cpl. Andrew Shepherd said the emergency dry runs are useful in establishing lines of communication and the roles each agency will play in a real situation.
“I think (the exercises) are very important.”