100th CES Airmen join forces with RAF Lakenheath in search, recovery exercise
By Karen Abeyasekere, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 13, 2017
RAF MILDENHALL, England --
Airmen from the 100th Civil Engineer Squadron Engineering Execution Support shop teamed up with RAF Lakenheath April 7, 2017, for a joint search and recovery/aircraft crash response training exercise which also involved Air Force reserve teams from the 927th Force Support Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
The focus of the event was to educate and expose Airmen to the critical and difficult tasks they may be asked to support in their careers.
Though rare, aircraft accidents do happen. One close to home happened in October 2015, when a U.S. Marine Corps F-18 Hornet, taking off from RAF Lakenheath, crashed in a field on the Suffolk-Cambridgeshire border. The pilot was killed after ejecting from the aircraft and the wreckage was spread over nearby farmland.
After a major incident like this comes the job of literally picking up the pieces – whether aircraft wreckage or human remains. Recovering wreckage can have both a mental and emotional effect on those tasked with the critical, time-consuming role of making sure everything is collected, and therefore any training which can help prepare them to face those scenes is vital.
During the training scenario on RAF Lakenheath, objects – including some moulaged with fake blood – were placed around the duck pond area to simulate both aircraft debris and human remains. The pond itself simulated the crater made at the site of the “crash.”
Various helping agencies briefed prior to forming a line of Airmen for the search and recovery part of the training.
“Our role is to ensure that every aircraft part, all human remains and personal effects are captured in a site picture which will be used by an investigation board to figure out what happened,” said Staff Sgt. Logan Fountaine, 100th CES Engineering Execution Support NCO in charge. “If someone dies as a result of a crash, the process has to be completed as fast as possible and we help that happen.
During the exercise Fountaine and his Airmen set up their survey equipment, before pinpointing and capturing the coordinates of every single item found on site.
They first placed wooden stakes into the ground at certain locations, before plotting their coordinates into their database. The Airmen then used those as points of reference before going to each individual flagged item marked by the search and recovery team, and recording those coordinates. From this information, the execution support team creates a detailed map which is then used in assisting the safety investigation board to determine what happened.
“From time to time we can run into issues with our equipment, so training like this means we can bring the items out that we’d be using in a real-world situation, practice using them and work out any problems we may run into,” he said. “We have a lot of new people who have never experienced this type of thing, as well as experienced individuals, so it’s always good to get their insight and learn different precautions to take and different ways of doing things. That way, if something does happen we’re able to respond quickly and get out on site to help figure out what happened.”
Fountaine explained that joint training with RAF Lakenheath agencies is vital.
“In the past, we’ve worked with RAF Lakenheath on aircraft crashes and safety mishaps so this training is a good way to get familiar with the people we’ll be working alongside and start building that bond for working together; we can also use each other’s equipment. Realistically, we’ll also be working with other agencies out there as we’re doing our part so it’s important to exercise working together with our counterparts,” remarked Fountaine.
The training created an opportunity for teams to practice their specific responsibilities on site ahead of a real event, and work out any shortfalls in a non-threatening environment.
“We aimed to create a realistic, hands-on training event which provides the opportunity to work with other organizations, understand how they operate during a mishap and see how their actions contribute to the overall event,” explained a master sergeant from the 48th Civil Engineer Squadron.
“It’s important to have this type of training with mental health, CE and FSS because the only time we ever get together is in a real-world scenario where everybody is thrown together and we have to work together,” said the master sergeant. “This a good opportunity to see what we bring to the table ahead of time, and how we can interact. Now these guys can see how search and recovery works, how they can assist and who they need to talk to during the whole process.”
In the event of an actual aircraft crash or other major disaster, many base agencies would be involved and play a vital role in both the emergency response and the clean-up process.
“The mental health team provided resiliency training for expanding the concept of what’s normal in reality; you think it’s going to be one way when you go out there, but you’re not mentally prepared for the actual conditions,” she explained. “You see it on TV or hear about it, but it’s completely different when you get out there – you don’t know how you’re going to react. Representatives from mental health taught Airmen techniques to ground themselves, stabilize and refocus on their roles in a search and recovery process.”