Education beyond the classroom

LIHUE — The pilot of a commercial airliner that was making its descent into Lihue Airport was hit with a laser light Tuesday.

While trying to recover from the incident, the plane was struck by several large birds resulting in the aircraft touching down on a runway at the Lihue Airport and careening off to a grassy area, strewing passengers along the way.

The scenario for disaster preparedness was an exercise for not only the Lihue Airport fire and rescue units, but tested the readiness of numerous other agencies, including the airport security system, the county’s fire department and American Medical Response.

The simulation also put the disaster readiness abilities of the G.N. Wilcox Memorial Hospital on the line.

“This is the first time I’m doing this,” said Brittany Thomas, a first-year nursing student at the Kauai Community College. “This is amazing. There are disasters happening around the world all the time. Kauai is such a small place, and this is such a reassuring feeling to see how well everyone responds. This is definitely an education beyond what you get in the classroom.”

Thomas was one of nearly 300 people involved in the disaster simulation exercise at the Lihue Airport.

“This is one of the largest exercises we’ve had with several hundred people to keep track of,” said Chief Don Ouderkirk of the Lihue Airport crash fire and rescue unit. “I’ve done two of these as chief, and I think this is the biggest one we’ve held.”

Dennis Neves, Lihue Airport manager, said having a large participating crowd is good because of the awareness it raises for what is involved in a large-scale disaster.

“We’re lucky it came down where it did,” said a crew from the Lihue Airport grounds and maintenance departments who were pressed into service to erect the triage stations as well as transport the injured. “If it had come down somewhere else, we would have a big problem — transportation. But we could probably handle.”

Emergency responders were also joined by representatives of airlines serving Lihue Airport so they could respond if the situation involved their carrier.

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