By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — While in-flight, the crewmembers of a C-130 became ill from an unknown cause, prompting Peterson first responders to meet the aircraft on the flight line as part of a simulated event during this quarter’s Condor Crest exercise.
Before boarding their C-130 for a return flight back to Peterson AFB, crewmembers all ate at a dining facility to celebrate newly promoted Airmen. Some chose to partake in a pepper eating contest while others were content with just watching and laughing.
“We designed an exercise that would focus primarily on public health and our field response team, and how they would respond to an in-flight emergency like this one,” said Maj. Mark Olson, 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron flight commander and exercise observer. “This situation had a flight crew of six on a C-130 flying in from Holloman Air Force Base, when three became violently ill.
“In order to test and evaluate the first responders and their handling of the situation, you must first present them with a solid and credible back story for them to work with,” Olson continued. “You can’t just have a few sick people on a plane with no other details to provide.”
“It was a simulated terrorist attack using botulism, which they had planted in the dish of peppers on the salad bar at the Holloman dining facility,” said Olson. “This caused the crewmembers to develop neurological and (gastrointestinal) symptoms while in-flight to Peterson.”
The illness prompted an in-flight emergency and triggered the response teams.
Realism was added to the exercise courtesy of the 302nd Airlift Wing, which allowed the use of one of its C-130s.
“I have been here (at Peterson) for almost two years now, and I haven’t seen an exercise like this where we got to use an actual C-130 to put the patients on and have the first responders get them off the plane and begin triage (on the patients),” said Olson.
Responding to an in-flight medical emergency involves many different agencies working together. Ultimately, it is the first responders with their boots on the ground that will have to physically deal with the situation at hand.
“The firefighters and (field response team) are the primary benefactors to this event, being able to respond to the crash-net alert to an in-flight emergency and getting onto the flight line and care for the patients,” said Olson.
Condor Crest is a quarterly training and evaluation exercise that tests the base’s ability to respond to a number of different, real-world situations that could occur — ensuring that Team Pete is ready and able to handle any emergency that may arise.
“I want them all to go away feeling, ‘Hey, I have an important job to do here,’ especially in an emergency like this, when they have to get out there and get the job done. Which is ultimately the Air Force mission,” said Olson.