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Water rescues part of LAX exercises

January 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Here in Southern California, are rescue crews ready to deal with a similar emergency of a plane going down in the Pacific Ocean off LAX? At Los Angeles International Airport planes take off and go over the ocean. In Los Angeles County there have been only two accidents in the ocean. Both occurred within a week of each other back in 1969. Ever since then they county has been rehearsing and planning for another accident and they say we are better prepared than just about any other area in the country.

In the water, L.A. County is second to none with a small flotilla of boats belonging to the fire department, the sheriff's department, L.A. County lifeguards and of course the Coast Guard, which would be the lead in any operation.

"We have the largest navy, the largest air force in the country of any fire department, along with the sheriff's department," said Mickey Gallagher, L.A. County Fire Dept. Lifeguard Division. "It can be matched by none."

Thursday they showed off some of those boats that would be deployed to the crash site. They have special life rafts and rescue equipment. Each of the boats can move in within minutes and carry up to 80 people to safety.

"The lifeguards will get in their big thick wetsuits and flotation devices -- it's what we call a 'blue water rescue'," said Thomas Dutton, L.A. County Fire Dept. "And the blue water rescue is on top of the water. They'll go out, make the contact rescues, get the victims onto these platforms. Get the platforms to the floating platforms where we can triage them."

Aviation experts say it is truly incredible the plane in New York made a safe landing.

"You can't really train for a ditching," said aviation expert Barry Shiff. "You discuss how you're going to do it, where you're going to do it, what circumstances. Usually you talk about ditching in an ocean, and having to avoid swells and waves and things like this."

And those are the conditions rescuers would face in the Pacific Ocean. The water now is 55 degrees and that can lead to hypothermia in about 15 minutes.

"Talking about operating out in this environment, I mean, most of what the fire department does is on land, but fortunately we have the lifeguards which are part of our organization," said Joseph Graham, L.A. County Fire Dept. "We also have the cooperation of the Coast Guard and law enforcement, L.A. County Sheriff's Department and others. And like I said, our priority would be to get people safely back on land."

L.A. County faces many disasters every year -- fires, floods, earthquakes. It's precisely because of all that real-world training that we are so prepared.

"It's unfortunate that these things happen but they're going to happen and L.A. County, whether it be the sheriff's department, fire department, we are prepared," said Gallagher.

And there will be another training exercise with water rescue in the next few months, planned months ago.


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