New Year’s Eve saw the Castlegar airport a little more packed than usual as every form of emergency response was on hand to deal with a “hijacking.”
No cause for alarm, as the hijacking was all part of a semi-planned crisis exercise meant to test the city’s emergency service. Of course the incident was planned and thought out but the timing was a surprise to almost everyone involved.
“Everyone knew it was coming,” said Fire Chief and Airport Manager, Gerry Rempel.
“We’d talked about it for a few months at safety meetings and council meetings but just not the date and time.”
Rempel explained the reasoning behind keeping the timing under wraps.
“We didn’t want people to pay for extra staff to come out. We wanted to get a realistic view of our response on a given day in the city.”
According to Rempel and Mayor Lawrence Chernoff the response was great.
The whole scenario started off with a simulated hostage taking in the hold room of the airport. Immediately, security initiated the alarm. The hostage-taker forced the passengers onto the aircraft. On take-off, the hijacker and the pilot got into a tussle and the aircraft veered off of the runway and into the nearby orchard, said Rempel.
A vehicle was used as a mock plane as to avoid any unnecessary complications.
Chernoff was quite pleased with the outcome of the exercise.
“It went great,” he said, “The only real glitch was the RCMP got an actual call during the exercise so that complicated things a bit.”
The mayor said he believes this is something that needs to be done on a regular basis and what he’d really like to see is something on a larger, community-wide scale.
“Hopefully we can do [a community wide exercise] in 2015 to really test all our services to see what we’re doing well and what needs to be improved. It’s interesting to see how things happen, because you’ve got real situations happening at the same time and it’s interesting to see how things would play out in an emergency like this.”
He added that council plans on being more involved in these types of simulations and he’s excited to continue to test the emergency services and look into ways the city can improve.