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Island crews ‘ready’ for Comair-style crash on runway

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Plans are in place to deal with a blocked runway at St Helena’s airport in the event of an incident like the Comair crash at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport on 26 October 2015.

Comair plane by Warren Mann 660Click the pic to read the Comair crash story (picture: Warren Mann)

St Helena Government (SHG) gave the assurance after a 737-400 tilted over on to its wing when landing gear failed.

The incident raised questions about what might happen if the same thing happens once Comair begins flights to St Helena in early 2016.

An obstruction on the runway would close down the airport and leave the island cut off while it was cleared.

Richard Brown of Atlantic Star Airlines – which announced its first UK-St Helena flight the same day – said aviation rules mean only one aircraft would be allowed to be in-bound towards the island at any time, because of the danger of an obstruction preventing a landing.

An SHG spokesman said: “First of all, we are very glad that no-one was injured and that the incident was effectively managed.

“This type of incident is precisely why so much is invested in emergency planning and preparedness at airports – including at St Helena Airport.

“We have a highly trained and qualified Rescue & Fire Fighting Service, supported by our regular local emergency services – and  the public will already be aware of the emergency exercises conducted as part of our airport certification programme.

“As part of this, a Disabled Aircraft Removal Plan (DARP) has been drawn up for St Helena Airport. Appropriate equipment to deliver the DARP will be in place before we begin airport operations, and staff are currently being trained in its use.”

The major incident exercise on Friday, 23 October 2015 saw the airport emergency services working alongside “local” crews for the first time, tackling a simulated emergency.

Chief of police Trevor Botting said: “This exercise was challenging and whilst there are a number of points that will help us to improve the way we work, it demonstrated that the emergency teams from the airport and from St Helena more generally can work together in an operational context.”

Aerodrome manager Nigel Spackman said: “These exercises are an essential part of the airport certification process and are designed to give the regulator confidence in our ability to operate the airport safely and to identify areas for improvement. 

“It was clearly proven that SHG emergency services and the airport teams can work together effectively, albeit that there are – as expected – areas where we can improve.”

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