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Agencies hold disaster drill at JFK Airport

First responders help carry a "wounded" passenger off

First responders help carry a "wounded" passenger off the plane during Sunday's drill at Kennedy Airport. (June 24, 2012) Credit: Charles Eckert

More than 700 first responders and volunteers staged one of the largest, most complex, interagency training drills in New York City history early Sunday, responding to a staged plane crash and car bombing at Kennedy Airport, officials said.

"Wounded" airplane passengers were carried off a wrecked JetBlue Airbus A320, which skidded into a hangar at 1 a.m. shortly before a vehicle loaded with explosives smashed into a nearby airline terminal and "detonated," according to the scenario.

About 200 police officers, firefighters and federal agents swarmed both scenes to treat about 500 volunteer actors who pretended to be injured or dead.

"We're really taking the scenario to a new level," said Patrick J. Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, which organized the exercise. "This is as real as we can make it without endangering people."

Both disaster sites were created in painstaking detail at the airport based on a year of planning by various agencies.

Many actors lay strewn about the smoke-filled disaster zones while screaming for help, their faces covered in fake blood.

While some responders loaded injured into ambulances, others searched for survivors in six torched cars -- which were destroyed and overturned outside a terminal to simulate fallout from a car bomb blast.

FBI agents combed the terminal for evidence planted as part of the drill, while detectives searched for witnesses who might help them make sense of the chaos.

"Hopefully it never happens, but someday it may be for real," said Michael Fedorko, superintendent of the Port Authority Police. "We take it seriously."

The drill was designed to test communications and coordination among more than 20 agencies -- including the NYPD, New York National Guard, the city medical examiner and the Secret Service -- and allowed each to test its capabilities in a high-stress, realistic setting.

Dozens of evaluators kept a close eye on the action, critiquing each aspect of the response effort. An overall assessment report will eventually be drafted, officials said.

"You learn from your mistakes during these drills," said Lt. Stephen Butler of the Port Authority Police. "Anything could become better."

Sunday's exercise was a learning experience for the actors as well as authorities.

Young adults in the Nassau County Police Department's Explorer program took on the roles of injured airplane passengers -- some of whom were placed into ambulances.

"It felt so real, and a little scary," said Iliana Zavala, 18, of Uniondale. "It was definitely a valuable experience."

Disaster drill scenario

* An arriving international flight carrying 325 passengers makes a hard landing

* The right side of the landing gear collapses and the plane skids off the runway into a hangar

* A short time later, a car bomb detonates outside a nearby terminal

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