There was an unspoken sub-text to Rarotonga’s first night-time air emergency exercise, held this week.
It was, there but for the grace of God …
That’s because the exercise scenario was all too real. It was a spring evening in 1991 that an Avaiki Air flight from Aitutaki was making its final approach to Rarotonga Airport.
The Britten-Norman Islander plane pitched forward into an uncontrollable dive. It crashed into the sea and sank to a depth of about 2.5km. The wreckage was not recovered.
Six of the 10 people on board died.
On Wednesday night, 28 years later, about 200 personnel from Police, Fire, Airport, Health and other authorities conducted an emergency response exercise at a “make believe crash site” in an old, vacant quarry inland from Black Rock.
The multi-agency operation was to test and assess the delivery of emergency services in the event of an air disaster, and the coordination of their response efforts.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Health established the Cook Islands Medical Assistance Team comprising Rarotonga-based health professionals with special skills and training to respond to health emergencies.
The Ministry hosted the World Health Organization, New Zealand Ministry of Health and Pasifika Medical Association for health emergency management training, coinciding with the national air emergency exercise.
The Health Ministry is also updating the National Disaster Risk Management plan, incorporating the Medical Assistance Team and the Incident Management System.
The Event Surveillance and Response unit in Tupapa, which was established a decade ago, will support the work of the emergency operations centre based at Rarotonga Hospital.
Airport Authority Chief Executive officer Joe Ngamata says the exercise went well.
Over the next few weeks the exercise will be evaluated more thoroughly, with more specifics on areas for improvement, he says.