INTENSE black smoke billowed up from the Military Air Force Base in Phnom Penh Tuesday morning. Nearby villagers could have been forgiven if they thought a plane had caught fire on the runway.
But the scene was merely part of an exercise meant to prepare emergency responders in the event of an actual disaster.
The exercise was aimed at strengthening the capabilities of local officials to respond in cases where urgent rescues are needed, said Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.
The airport emergency exercise “is necessary for the airport to protect and prevent unexpected incidents in order to keep passengers secure and protect their lives”, Sok An said.
On Tuesday morning, observers said they could hear the piercing sounds of sirens, as fire trucks and ambulances headed at full speed towards the scene – part of a crew of 630 participants from 19 different units, including civilian and military police, firefighters and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
Crash spurred exercise
The responders extinguished the blaze from a pile of old tyres that had been set alight to symbolise a burning plane. While crews from 10 fire trucks battled the staged blaze, other emergency responders, with special black-clad commandos serving as security, practised rescuing victims and carrying them to ambulances, which shuttled the simulated casualties to local hospitals.
The State Secretariat of Civil Aviation said they warned nearby residents of the exercise four days in advance. Mao Havanal, a secretary of state at the State Secretariat, said such large-scale exercises are conducted roughly once every two years, and that a smaller one takes place annually.
The first exercise was conducted in 2007, following a Kampot province plane crash that killed 22 people, he said.