Edited Version February 9, 2000
EIIP Classroom Online Presentation

"Major Aviation Disasters:
Strategies to Save Lives And Control The Incident"

Gunnar J. Kuepper
Chief of Operations
Emergency and Disaster Management, Inc.

Avagene Moore
Moderator, EIIP Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the February 9, 2000 online Virtual Classroom presentation is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussions, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Classroom!

Our topic today is "Major Aviation Disasters - Strategies to Save Lives And Control The Incident." As your Moderator for the session, we are pleased to see everyone and want to especially welcome any newcomers in our audience. We want each of you to make the most of this interactive session and offer the following tips.

Any URL's used in today's presentation become live links that you may view by clicking on the link. The site or slide will come up in your browser window. If you lose the chat screen after the first one, please click on the button at the bottom of your screen and the chat screen will reappear. For example, the background page on today's speaker and topic is at <http://www.emforum.org/vclass/000209.htm> .

Direct messaging is another feature of this software that we find very useful. However, we ask that you not distract the speaker or moderator during the formal part of the session by sending a direct message.

When our speaker completes his formal presentation, we will open the floor for Q&A. At that time, I will give instructions for keeping order in the Virtual Classroom so that we may all benefit from the discussion. We don't want to talk over each other but want to be courteous and orderly.

At the end of the hour, immediately after EIIP Upcoming Events, you will have an opportunity to make announcements if you have a conference, update, or some bit of news that will be of interest to the audience today. Please save any sidebar announcements until that time.


And now, to introduce our speaker of the hour. Gunnar J. Kuepper is Chief of Operations for the Los Angeles-based Emergency and Disaster Management, Inc. Gunnar has over 20 years experience in the emergency / disaster management business. He started out in 1976 as a paramedic and a fireofficer.

In 1986, Gunnar received a BA in Law and Biochemistry from the German Universities of Bonn and Hannover. After graduation, he was named managing director and commanding chief of various EMS and rescue services throughout Europe, especially in Germany. Moving to the USA in 1997, he is certified as Incident Commander, Business Contingency Planner, Certified Emergency Manager, and Trainer for Response to Terrorism Incidents.

Gunnar lectures on Aircraft and Railway Disaster Management. As a professional, Gunnar is an active member of several organizations (please see his bio). He serves on the advisory board of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the National Safety Council. He is a principal member on the NFPA Technical Committee 1600 on "Emergency/Disaster Management and Business Continuity Programs."

We are very pleased to have you with us today, Gunnar. I now turn the floor to you.


Gunnar J. Kuepper: Thank you very much, good morning everybody from sunny LA.


Quotes by surviving Passengers: "After the airplane hit the ground several times, I suddenly saw flames under my feet," said one passenger. "Suddenly panic broke out." "You could only hear passengers screaming and I desperately ran to the emergency exits," said another survivor. "The flames were higher than I am. Some people's hair caught fire and they ran in panic because there was even a fire next to the emergency exit."

Findings of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) after the crash of Korean Air Boeing 747 on August 6, 1997 in Guam:

No.23 A substantial portion of the delayed emergency response was caused by preventable factors.

No.24 The delayed emergency response hampered the timely evacuation of injured persons, and at least one passenger who survived the initial impact and fire might not have died if emergency medical responders had reached the accident site sooner.

No.25 Improved formal coordination among Guam's emergency response agencies has not been implemented, and off-airport drills to identify and correct deficiencies in disaster response planning before an accident occurs have still not been conducted in the more than 2 years since the flight 801 accident.

No.26 Actions taken by Guam's emergency response agencies after the accident have been inadequate because they failed to ensure that emergency notifications and responses would be timely and coordinated."


This presentation will outline procedures and suggestions to enhance your ability to deal with a major aircraft disaster:

1. Introduction

2. Response operations: a) In a local community b) Inside an airport

3. Recovery operations/aftermath: a) Investigation b) Media c) Family assistance d) Critical incident stress/Emotional impact

4. Hazards

5. Preparedness and planning

6. Conclusion


Most airplane accidents occur during take-off or landing on airport premises or in the surrounding communities. But experience has shown again and again that disaster can strike everywhere.

In densely populated areas (mid-air collisions 1960 over New York and 1978 over San Diego; 1992 EL Al cargo Boeing-747 crashed into an apartment complex in Amsterdam, Netherlands), in smaller cities, in rural areas (1988, PanAm Boeing-747 crashed into the small village of Lockerbie, Scotland, 259 aboard and 11 on the ground perished; 1996, Valujet DC-9 into the Everglades), over water (June 1985: Air India Boeing 747 with 329 persons aboard exploded in Mid-air off the coast of Ireland; 1996: TWA 800 Boeing 747 exploded offshore Long Island; November 1996: Ethiopian Boeing 767 crashed into Indian Ocean offshore the Comoro Islands, 127 people perished, but 48 survived; 1999: Swissair MD 11 crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia, claiming 229 lives; November 1999: Egypt Air Boeing 767 crashed offshore the U.S. east coast, claiming 217 lives; January 31, 2000 Alaska Airlines off the coast of California).

We distinguish three major kinds of occurrences:

1. High-impact: no survivors (i.e., mid-air collisions);

2. Middle-impact: many survivors (i.e., ground collisions, skidding off the runway);

3. Low-impact: initially survivable, but can have a catastrophic outcome.


Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting services (ARFF) should be expected to deal with the specifics of a downed aircraft (fuel fire, fuselage, evacuation routes, and specific hazards). Local communities, including emergency management agencies, fire, rescue, EMS, and law enforcement departments, often have neither the experience nor the knowledge needed.


Common problems:

a. Lack of training: responders are not familiar with airport procedures and infrastructure, aircraft design and construction, fuel firefighting, and airplane rescue proceedings.

b. Lack of planning: staging areas and assistance operations are not designated.

c. Lack of communication: responders/agencies do not know to whom they report, and who reports to them.

d. Lack of coordination: "Freelancing" crews begin fire, rescue, medical, or recovery operations without being assigned to and without knowledge of the Incident Commander.

e. Lack of resources


1. Response in a local community

When an airplane with 300 passengers crashes in a community, local emergency services are the first to respond. They might not have the experience, training, or knowledge to successfully fight 50,000 gallons of burning fuel with flames reaching up to a hundred feet and are presented with an overwhelming situation they are not familiar with.

An outside fuel fire goes through the metal skin of a passenger jet in approximately 90 seconds. Because responders will only have minutes or seconds to react, it is vital that they become thoroughly trained and well prepared. The first on-scene priority is fire control at the fuselage to ensure an escape route for the people aboard.

It is, therefore, essential for local fire and rescue departments to know:

a. the basic principles and techniques of fuel fire fighting,

b. aircraft design, including the different compartments and materials,

c. location of fuel tanks, engines, and exits, and finally

d. exterior openings of exits, evacuation slides, and forcible entry into the fuselage.


2. Response on airport property:

Inside the fence, the principal jurisdiction lies with the airport and its fire and rescue services (ARFF), required by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. They should be trained, prepared, and experienced in dealing with an accident situation during the very first minutes.

But even a recent study of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) proved otherwise. Fifty-four percent of category 9 airports (which are the larger airports like Chicago O'Hara, Los Angeles International, New York JFK, Dallas/Fort Worth, etc.) did not meet NFPA standards in regards to response times (fire vehicles in two minutes or less to any point of the operational runway).

However, the success or failure of ARFF in a major crash depends on qualified assistance from outside resources. Support is needed from local fire, EMS, and other emergency departments for water supply, providing personnel and equipment for rescue operations, triaging, treating and transporting injured victims to appropriate hospitals, accounting for and securing survivors and human remains, scene and access control, etc.

Local emergency agencies need to understand their roles and responsibilities in the event of an airplane crash. Through a single contact and control procedure called Incident Command System (ICS).

On August 31, 1988, a Boeing 727 crashed at Dallas International Airport, very near the perimeter fencing. Responding airport fire and rescue crews set up a triage sector at the accident site. Local EMS units from neighboring counties and other jurisdictions approached the scene from outside the airfield. The Incident Commander, which was the ARFF chief, was not informed when a second triage area was set up.

This "freelancing" created a serious breach of proper response activities, and in the accounting and identification of victims. Further, it endangered the safety of airport rescuers, who were searching for passengers already evacuated. Assisting departments should only fulfill assigned tasks and not work on their own. "Freelancing" will create chaos and confusion, and is always counter-productive.

It is also dangerous for unassigned crews rushing to the accident scene without proper protective equipment. An aircraft accident scene is like a Haz-Mat area. It is absolutely necessary that responders have adequate training and equipment. Individual EMS and law enforcement agencies are often not familiar with the ICS concept. It is a common scenario, even during airport exercises, that ambulance crews rush to the scene without protective equipment, load victims on stretchers, and rush them to a hospital. Police units are sometimes seen blocking access to rescue vehicles desperately needed on-site.

Stay in contact - this is an always changing world. If things change at the airport or in the community that will effect response or rescue efforts (construction areas, traffic detours, etc.), be sure to maintain a regular information exchange between ARFF and local emergency responders via Fax or e-mail.


a. Implement mutual training and exercises on a regular basis, including airport and aircraft familiarization.

b. Designate staging areas and immediate installation of staging officer (staging is the exclusive resource).

c. Allow access only to units with specific assignments.

d. Establish a recognizable command post, with clear communication and radio control.

e. Establish comprehensive ICS. Make all command functions unambiguous and visible (vests).


Emergency responders adjacent to an airport or its arrival and traffic pattern should have an Airplane Crash Checklist (ACC). This checklist should be laminated and fit into every glove compartment.

It must follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and should contain the following information:

a. Grid-map of the airport and the designated staging areas;

b. The specifically assigned radio frequency;

c. Priorities, DO's and DON'Ts at an aircraft accident scene;

d. Rapid fire control at the fuselage from upwind is essential;

e. Never approach without proper protective equipment;

f. No freelancing: Always work inside established ICS.



1. Investigation:

After life saving operations, investigation becomes the next priority. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are then in charge of the accident scene and their overall goal is to examine the cause of the accident.

State, local, or airport emergency management should be prepared to support the federal agencies with resources (i.e., personnel, facilities, equipment). To give an idea about the extent of aircraft recovery operation, TWA 800 flight crashed into the ocean close to Long Island on July 17, 1996. One million (!) pieces of the Boeing 747 were salvaged, or 96% of the airplane, and 40,000 personal items belonging to the 230 persons who perished on board were also recovered.

2. Media:

An aviation disaster grabs the immediate attention of national and international news media. It is crucial to provide accurate and coordinated information to the media, the affected public, employees, etc. Absolutely, treat them as friends (they can become your worst enemy).


3. Family Assistance:

The "Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996" and the "Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997" were prompted by complaints made by families of victims in three recent tragedies (May, 1996, Valujet DC-9 crashed into the Everglades, killing 110; TWA 800 in July, 1996, when 228 people perished, and the Korean Airlines Boeing 747 crash in Guam in August 1997, in which 228 persons died and 26 survived).

Air carriers are now required to submit a plan to the NTSB addressing the needs of families in an aircraft accident. The airline is instructed to establish a family support operations center, secured facilities for the grieving relatives and friends, as well as logistical support, proper notification and communication procedures, etc.

According to the Family Assistance Act, the American Red Cross (ACR) has to provide counseling services in coordination with the air carrier's disaster response team. ACR will also address the needs of families in cooperation with governmental agencies and others.

4. Critical incident stress/Emotional impact:

An aircraft catastrophe with many fatalities goes far beyond the emergency scene and reaches deep into the hearts and minds of those impacted. It strikes emergency responders and recovery workers, survivors, families, and friends of victims, and last, but not least, the community.


a. Kerosene fuel can always ignite,

b. Sharp metal debris can cut,

c. Engine force can blast objects and persons away,

d. Damaged aircraft structures can collapse and/or rollover,

e. The Unknowns: radioactive materials, explosive devices, chemicals, biological samples, and other Hazmats.



Local emergency managers and rescue providers may believe there is little or no risk of an airplane crashing in their community. But particularly recent tragedies have proven otherwise. It is impossible to predict the location of future airline disasters and therefore it is essential to plan and prepare.

A comprehensive Aviation Emergency Plan should describe the agencies involved (FAA, NTSB, FBI, Fire/Rescue/EMS, Hospitals, ARFF, Airline, Aircraft Manufacturer, Coast Guard, Military, etc.) and their functions. The plan must cover aviation specific resources and procedures for the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the Mobile Command Post, unified Communications, Command and Coordination of all response and recovery activities. Specific considerations should be given to Mass Casualty Management for the Injured, Scene Access Control, Mass Fatality Management, Family Assistance, Media Handling.

Training, Drills, and Full Scale Exercises:

The FAA requires airports to have a full-scale exercise at least every three years. It would be wise either to participate in such an event or have an airplane crash exercise in your community.



The initial impact of an airplane accident is often survivable, as recently seen by the American Airlines Flight 1420 crash in Little Rock, Arkansas. The final decision of life or death for the occupants is made by fast and skilled response.

The only solution to saving lives and reducing the pain for our families, for our friends, for our colleagues, and the people we do not even know yet, are joint planning and training, and a comprehensive emergency program. We are in charge of making the difference and we should take that matter very seriously.

[SLIDE 10]

Thank you very much.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Gunnar, for a fine presentation. I am sure the audience has some questions for you.

[Audience Questions]


Tom McAllister: Do Airline manufacturers offer training for rescue on their aircraft?

Gunnar J. Kuepper: What means? Some airlines do on a volunteer basis (i.e. United has a very good emergency training program).

Avagene Moore: Tom, can you offer more detail of what you are looking for?


Tom McAllister: Will They come to an area and train responders on their planes as to entry and location of cargo and fuel?

Gunnar J. Kuepper: Tom, airlines are not in charge for training emergency responders, this is only mandated for FAA regulated Airport authorities.


Bill OCallahan: Are there any plans by cities near airports that you think are good models?

Gunnar J. Kuepper: Bill, in my opinion some cities are very well prepared within their jurisdiction, others not.


Leigh Anderson: What resources are available for communities in the approach lanes to host an aircraft crash training exercise?

Gunnar J. Kuepper: Leigh, there are no resources available or mandated; we provide comprehensive training and planning programs; another good idea is to work with the airport fire service.


David Crews: Do you do integrated planning with the Military? Many Air National Guard and AFRES units are on civilian airports. Ejection seats and munitions pose special problems.

Gunnar J. Kuepper: That is indeed a challenge, the ARFF working is an organization, where military and civilian ARFF personnel work together. It can even go the other way. An passenger jet can be forced to make an emergency landing on a military airfield.


Libbi RuckerReed: Metro Nashville Airport personnel provided some general aircraft information overview for emergency responders in our area identifying hazard areas and providing some initial response information. That might be a resource for other areas to utilize. This was information for emergency responders other than "specific aircraft fire/rescue trained" units required to respond.

Gunnar J. Kuepper: Libbi, the key word is always "working together" and learn from each other.

Libbi RuckerReed: Exactly, Gunner. Coordination being the operative word! :)


Amy Sebring: Leigh touched on my question. An off-airport crash may compound the challenges. For those cities with airports, do you think it is a good idea to exercise an off-site scenario occasionally?

Gunnar J.Kuepper: Amy, absolutely. Aviation transportation is growing; the risk for local communities is getting higher.


Frank Livingston: Has the ARFF working group sought federal funding from FEMA as authorized by PL 93-498, Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974? This is the law that formed the National Fire Academy and allows the NFA superintendent to use funds for such training. Everyone needs to ask FEMA to begin looking at this in future budgets. Look at Sec. 7(d)(1)(D) and (F).

Gunnar J. Kuepper: Frank, I am not positive on that but I can definitely check.

Frank Livingston: Gunnar, If you need more info on PL 93-498, please call me at our toll free number 877- 854-3473. This is the National Fire Academy Alumni Association.

Gunnar J. Kuepper: Frank, I will, thank you very much.


Roger Kershaw: What is the solution to response times at these airports that are so huge and spread out? More fire stations within the airport property?

Gunnar J. Kuepper: Roger, there are different ways to ensure safety. First of all FAA and even better NFPA standards and you have to look at the big picture. We have in Los Angeles only one Fire Station at the airport. But there are many Firestations of the same department close and firefighters there are trained to deal with air emergencies.

Final Question:

Jim Sells: We appear to be discussing major airports, but should not responders consider the many private airstrips which are in many jurisdictions? These are often in secluded areas and pose contact issues with the owners.

Gunnar J. Kuepper: Jim is totally right, a big problem. A smaller airport that are not regulated by the FAA. I assume many people remember the tragic incident at Quincy. IL airport which was not covered by an airport fire service and it took local fire engine 13 minutes to respond. Everybody in the commuter plane had survived the crash but died in the fire condition.


Avagene Moore: Our time is up for today's Q&A. If Gunnar can stay around a few moments after we adjourn, you can pursue the topic further with additional questions and comments, plus express your appreciation for his session. Gunnar, thank you for your time and effort on behalf of the EIIP Virtual Forum. Audience, thank you for your attention and participation today.

Gunnar J. Kuepper: That's fine with me. Thank you, Avagene for having me in your classroom. I really enjoyed this experience.

Avagene Moore: If anyone has an announcement to share with us, please compose it now and hold until after Amy does our Upcoming Event. Amy, will you please tell us about next week's topic and speaker?

[Upcoming Events]

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Ava. Next week we will be in the Virtual Forum with Barbara Vogt and John Sorenson from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, both of whom are highly respected researchers in the disaster field. They will be sharing some information about a CD-ROM series that they are working on called the Emergency Planner's Companion. The series is being developed for the CSEPP, Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program. However, the first CD in the series is about Public Education and Information and contains valuable guidance for all hazards. We hope you will join us then.

I would also like to take this opportunity to recognize two new pledges, from Jim Sells at the Concord, NC Office of Emergency Management, and Mike Abramson with American Red Cross Disaster Services.

< //bell http://www.emforum.org/pledge.wav>. Thanks Jim and Mike!

That's it, Ava.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Amy. As requested earlier, if anyone has an announcement, please submit to the screen now. Gunnar, any closing remarks?

Gunnar J. Kuepper: Like always planning, preparation, planning, preparation.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Gunnar, and thank you, Audience. We are now adjourned!