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Florida Film School Students Take Part in Airport Disaster Drill

About 30 teenage film school students and dozens of local firefighters, police officers and government officials converged on Palm Beach International Airport on Tuesday morning to simulate the crash of a Boeing 727.

It was not a résumé-building exercise for the students, but required practice for the airport, rescue crews and other emergency responders who would be called after a real disaster.

The Federal Aviation Administration monitored the drill and will rate the airport on its response.

Such an exercise is required every three years, said Peter Labbe, the airport's director of operations.

The practice helps when real disasters happen. Though PBIA has been spared the crash of a commercial plane, emergency responders were tested in November when a twin-engine plane crashed just after takeoff, killing a flight instructor and three others on board from the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.

For Tuesday's drill, emergency officials came up with a crash scenario:

A plane on takeoff from PBIA experiences an explosion on board, splitting the plane in half and injuring or killing about 40 people aboard the aircraft.

They had to improvise a crashed plane, borrowing the front half of a Boeing named "JCB Last Dance" from training facilities off Jog Road and hauling it to the crash site on a flatbed truck.

They had to prep their victims -- students at G-Star School of the Arts in Palm Springs -- who wore their injury lists on yellow cards like necklaces.

Hours before the drill, fellow students helped the victims look the part, creating bruises, burns and puncture wounds out of plastic molds, spirit gum and a lot of red and bluish-purple makeup.

Michael Dzuro, 16, broke character (44-year-old unconscious man) on the floor of the "hospital" at the UPS hangar to reveal the wound that had "punctured" his left lung.

"She did it," he said, nodding with pride at fellow victim Avery Mendel, who according to her card was suffering "altered mental status" and burns.

Mendel had exercised her acting chops just an hour earlier: "I was crying over his unconscious body. Well, I cried a little bit, but I was mostly screaming."

The reality of the crash scene helped the students get into character. "It was really easy to get myself to cry," said Maritsa Moore, 15. "They were trying to be helpful."

But more important, it helped rescue crews work in a situation that simulated reality.

Said the airport's Labbe: "We were fortunate to get the G-Star School on board."


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