The Crash of USAir Flight 1016: Emergency Preparedness
Barry, John M., Journal of Environmental Health
Mecklenburg County (population 556,731 as of March 1994), its townships and municipalities, including the City of Charlotte, are subject to a wide spectrum of hazards, both natural and manmade. The City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have developed the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Integrated Response Plan for All Hazards. This All Hazards Plan is designed to be used in isolated incidents or for emergencies that affect an entire municipality or multi-county area. Built-in flexibility allows it to be used in a field operational setting without the activation of the Emergency Operations Center ("EOC") or in harmony with EOC operations.
The 2-inch thick plan provides a guide for use in emergency operations but does not eliminate the quality of personal initiative which is often necessary in the mitigation of a rapidly evolving incident. The plan maintains a sense of continuity between elected representatives, city/county management, and emergency response organizations which is imperative in a disaster/emergency setting which threatens the safety and well being of the community.
The plan addresses four major categories of incidents identified through a hazard analysis study:
1. Transportation: Plane crashes, railroad accidents or derailments, truck/trailer accidents, and commercial or school bus accidents.
2. Industry: Major fire, explosion, building collapse, pesticide spill or fire, large petroleum spill or fire, and chemical or other hazardous material spill or fire.
3. Weather: Any naturally occurring condition of major proportion that results in a disastrous condition requiring major response of local government resources.
4. Other: A listing of various hazards, including the two nuclear power plants in the community that were identified through the hazardous analysis study for Charlotte-Mecklenburg County.
The crash of USAir Flight 1016 not only tested the completeness of the All Hazards Plan, but served to reinforce the need for periodic exercises. In this particular case, there had been several exercises simulating a crash of a passenger airline--one of which had been in the immediate vicinity of the crash site.
This paper will concentrate on emergency response activities surrounding the crash of Flight 1016. This type of analysis may give other jurisdictions insight into disaster responses of this nature.
USAir Flight 1016 was on its final approach to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport when it encountered a wind sheer problem. As the pilot attempted to abort the landing, the plane lost altitude and crashed into a field approximately 2,200 feet west and 1,700 feet south of the runway at a speed of about 160 miles per hour. The plane then skidded over 900 feet through a grove of trees and burst into flames before hitting two large oak trees which caused it to break into three sections. One section was lodged against one of the oak trees, the cockpit section of the fuselage lodged on the Wallace Neel Road, and the tail section continued to skid past the cockpit and eventually came to rest on a house fronting Wallace Neel Road. The location of the cockpit section and the lack of connecting roads served to divide the operations into two sections. To complicate matters from a jurisdictional perspective, part of the wreckage was on city-owned property and part was outside of the city's jurisdiction in Mecklenburg County.
Fire and Rescue Operations
Because of the weather and near zero visibility at the time, the airport control tower did not know exactly what had happened to the plane other than they had lost it from radar. The first reports to the 911 emergency dispatch came from citizens who were traveling along Wallace Neel Road. These first reports did not indicate that the plane was a DC-9, therefore only two fire engine companies responded. The first two fire engine companies concentrated on extinguishing the fire and maintaining a foam blanket during rescue operations. …