Sarajevo International Airport site of Red Wings exercise

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Sgt. Kelly Whitteaker
First published in
SFOR Informer#140, June 6, 2002

It's an average Monday morning with people travelling to and from work. The day is mildly cool with skies slightly overcast. It is business as usual. Suddenly the unexpected occurs. Thick clouds of choking black smoke appear in the sky. High-pitched wails of emergency vehicle sirens descend upon the once peaceful morning. A plane crash has occurred at the Sarajevo International Airport. The dead and wounded must be removed from the scene, fires need to be extinguished.

Sarajevo - Have no fear, the above scenario is a training exercise that took place May 27, at the Sarajevo airport with SFOR troops and local civilian fire and rescue teams.

Exercise a success
"Overall it went very well," said French Col. Thierry Mounié, commander DETAIR. "The main objective of this exercise was to test the ability of the local firemen and the local medical team from the airport. Concerning those teams I think it worked - I would say perfectly."
"The main objective was to test their (civilian emergency teams) ability to respond to a military air crash on Sarajevo airport," he said.

Airport Fire Brigade responds
"My impression was the exercise was very good for the fire brigade," said Kemal Cacan, head of the Professional Fire Brigade Division, sector Airport.
He said the firemen responded well to the crash. Trucks were on site within minutes of the crash. Hoses pumping out thick, white chemical spray quickly doused the flames at the crash site. Fire Brigade personnel were busy with the task of removing casualties from the plane. For Cacan the training learned by working closely with members of DETAIR helped with the success of the exercise. When asked about the transfer of responsibility from military to civilian emergency teams, he replied, "I think we are ready for complete responsibility of the civilian airport."
The upcoming transition has been in the works for a while. Cacan explained that the training process has been ongoing for the past two years. "We have worked together, I have learned many things," he said about training alongside members of the French DETAIR.

Medical teams treat casualties
Inside the fuselage of the downed aircraft bodies lay strewn about, some limp and lifeless, others burned and bloodied. The strained sound of victims crying out in pain could be heard above the din of fire fighters working to keep the fire under control. Emergency Medical Team personnel arrive on site and quickly begin administering first aid to the victims. According to French Lt. Col. Bernard Maunier, deputy commander, DETAIR, within 24 minutes of the crash, casualties had been evacuated from the crash site to a triage centre where further medical treatment was administered. The area was set up in one of the fire brigade garages at the airport.

"I was very satisfied with our medical team," said Dr. Jasminka Kovacevic, emergency medicine specialist. "The emergency medical team service of Sarajevo was very good in the exercise because co-ordination was high."
Kovacevic's background with medicine includes training in the United States of America, and other western countries. She said the level of the medical team's work is very high.
"Our preparation in working in emergencies is more than six years," she explained. "We have the same standards as in most western countries."
Kovacevic was one of the evaluators on site that morning and stressed just how satisfied she was with the medical team's performance.
Members from several countries took part in the exercise to include Moroccan and Italian troops who played the role of crash casualties. German medical troops worked closely with the emergency medical team assisting them with the evacuation of the casualties to the local hospital.

Airport manager positive about transition
The transfer of responsibility to the civilian emergency teams at the airport is fast approaching. For airport general manager Bakir Karahasanovic, the upcoming change is a positive event.
"On behalf of the Airport Company, I am very satisfied with the results achieved at the level of the exercise," he said. "The training and exercise of security staff is everyday business. It's our long-term orientation of course to be as good as possible because there is no absolute security, nor safety in life, and particularly not at the airport."

French troops pulling out of DETAIR
The Red Wings exercise was conducted by MND (SE) to see how well prepared the civilian rescue teams are for the transfer of responsibility. "Now we are going to see what we have to do to make this hand over possible," Mounié explained. "The next step is to finalise the take over by the civilian fire brigade and medical teams on paper." Mounie explained that France intends to withdraw DETAIR troops entirely from SFOR by the end of 2002, and that members of the French detachment will begin leaving in June.
The first troops arrived in DETAIR shortly after the beginning of the war. It was July 24, 1992, approximately ten years ago.

Related links: More photos (Photo Album)
Nations of SFOR: France
SFOR at Work

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Photos: PO Susan Rose

One of several casualties is placed into an awaiting ambulance.

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Emergency medical workers perform first aid on casualties in an open field near the crash site.

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Medical personnel place a casualty into an ambulance as they prepare to transport patients to the local hospital for further care.

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Rescue workers quickly treat patients at the triage centre set up inside one of the fire brigade garages at the Sarajevo International airport.

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Members of the fire brigade work to extinguish a car blaze near the crash site.

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Members of the airport fire brigade evacuate crash casualties out of the danger area.

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Fire fighters assist those casualties who are able to walk, away from the crash site.

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An emergency medical team member performs first aid on a crash victim during the Red Wings exercsie held at Sarajevo International Airport, May 27.