ITHACA, N.Y. — Emergency crews from across Tompkins County tested how they would respond in the event of a mass casualty plane crash.

The drill was held Saturday morning at the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport near Cherry Road. Holding such a full-scale drill is mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration. It was an opportunity for the county to test its response and improve its response plan.

“It’s a very important drill because it’s really the one time the county has a large-scale mass casualty drill,” airport manager Mike Hall said.

Fifty-three community members of all ages volunteered as “victims” for the drill. Early Saturday morning they arrived to get made up to look like real victims, with fake blood and injuries.

As part of the drill, officials even held a mock press conference and sent out news releases during the event to test the public information response. The call for response went out at about 9 a.m. Saturday. A drill press release that went out just before 10 a.m. said an American Airlines flight crashed on arrival to the airport. It said emergency crews were responding from surrounding areas to assist. They also shared a fake number for family and friends to contact for friends and family who knew passengers on the flight.

At the scene Saturday, officials had set up the “plane,” which was made up of a car and a metal cylinder, in a controlled environment that had flames and smoke that firefighters needed to extinguish. There were at least a dozen emergency vehicles on scene, including fire trucks, ambulances, a mass casualty vehicle and TCAT buses.

“Victims” were carried by firefighters to an area near the scene where three tarps were laid out, where EMTs were stationed to treat them.

There have been plane crashes in the past in Tompkins County, but never one with mass casualties like was simulated Saturday. The last significant crash was about 10 years ago, Hall said, when a jet was taking off.

Work on the scene wrapped up by 11 a.m. and was followed by a debriefing.

Here are a few photos from the drill. All images by Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

A mock plane was set up for the drill. Firefighters extinguished flames that were created in a controlled environment.
Tarps were set up for “victims” at the scene.
Local residents of all ages volunteered to be victims in the drill.
“Victims” were carried from the scene to tarps for treatment.
Firefighters continue to extinguish the area designed as a mock plane.

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.