(TNS) - Black Hawk helicopters took to the skies Thursday over DuPont State Recreational Forest as part of a disaster training exercise mimicking a plane crash in the woods.
Local agencies joined the N.C. National Guard and state and federal emergency management agencies in an all-day domestic and homeland security exercise around Guion Farm.
Dubbed Operation Vigilant Catamount, the multi-county disaster exercise led by the N.C. National Guard involved dozens of local, state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Air Force from Seymour Johnson Air Base in Goldsboro.
Throughout the day, the North Carolina Helicopter and Aquatic Rescue Team conducted search and rescue training exercises using the Black Hawk helicopters.
“What they’re exercising is how to respond if there was a plane crash in the forest,” said Lt. Col. Matt DeVivo of the N.C. National Guard. “We’ve got local law enforcement, search and rescue teams, emergency management from the county, Highway Patrol, fire and rescue, and they’re all working together to deal with that situation.”
Helicopters were flown in from the Army National Guard’s base in Salisbury to work with rescue technicians from Asheville, Henderson and Transylvania counties, DeVivo said.
“This type of exercise is critical because it allows local, state and federal agencies to work together in a controlled environment,” said Henderson County Emergency Services Director Jimmy Brissie. “So when a real event occurs, it’s second nature.”
One exercise involved putting out a vehicle fire. In another, emergency personnel scanned a clearing in the woods for plane debris and a body to simulate the aftermath of a plane crash.
Another exercise involved helicopter hoist operations to simulate the rescue of a downed pilot or civilian stranded in the woods. Air Force members were stationed on the ground with an injured person. They had to coordinate their location with planes in the air so that a helicopter could come in to rescue the injured person, hoisting them back up in a stretcher.
“They’ll be on the aircraft, they’ll go down to deal with that injured person and successfully get them back on the helicopter,” DeVivo said. “It’s a big team effort from emergency management on down to the local level here in Henderson County.”
Maj. Frank Stout with the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office said the training allows local agencies to sharpen their skills and gives Henderson County the ability to assist other agencies, depending on a situation that arises in Western North Carolina.
“We train a lot together with our incident management team in Henderson County,” said Stout. “But by being able to have the assets from the Guard, the Army and everybody else here really ramps our training up to a higher level.”
Thursday kicked off a multi-day training session by the National Guard for agencies in the western part of the state. Similar exercises will be conducted throughout the week in the mountains, involving agencies from Buncombe, Swain, Graham and Haywood counties.
“From the Guard’s point of view, we don’t get train out here often,” DeVivo said. “The goal is to work with the county, emergency managers and incident management teams to work out our capabilities and procedures. So DuPont was just a nice place away from the public where could do some helicopter operations and firefighting and tactical roles together.”
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