Crash “survivors” Live to Tell Their Story


Sean Lee

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

University of North Dakota


... Okay, so maybe it wasn't that dramatic. But, it sure was fun.

Upwards of 30 UND students came out to the Grand Forks International Airport to act as mock survivors for a required crash and rescue training exercise, taking place inside a real Boeing 727 aircraft.

The exercise began at check-in, where each “victim” was assigned a role to play. Each of us received a card listing vital statistics, as well as any major injuries that we may have developed upon crash-landing west of the runway.

After a short lunch provided by the Salvation Army, we were bussed out to the the scene of the crash and made our way inside the airplane.

Once we were settled, some couldn’t resist the opportunity to crack a joke. “What’s the movie,” said one student. “Do I have to take off my shoes,” asked another.

Then the sound of fire trucks and rescue equipment came closer. An inspector at the front of the plane instructed us to “do some acting,” when the rescuers entered the plane.

I guess you could say we were waiting “between the wings” for our cue.

Just like that, the simulation began. As soon as the doors flew open, people started screaming in (simulated) pain. Firefighters marched down the aisle of the airplane and asked those who could walk to leave the aircraft.

I was not that fortunate and suffered two leg injuries.

On the second pass, the rescuers “carried” those blessed with spinal or leg injuries out of the aircraft.

Triage came next. I was immediately placed in a staging area where I met up with UND junior Danyelle Fuhrmann, who was screaming hysterically. “What happened? Why aren't you treating me,” she yelled to a nearby paramedic. Fuhrmann also had a large gash on her forehead, thanks to moulage - theatrical makeup simulating the appearance of real wounds.

Nine survivors with the worst injuries were transported via ambulance to Altru Hospital for emergency treatment. Because of the extent of my injuries (bi-lateral femur fractures), I was transported first, along with UND junior Griffin Stangel.

In the emergency room, I feigned (poorly) my injuries and was quickly diagnosed by a team of real ER doctors and nurses.

Then, a scream for help outside the ER actually got a pair of nurses to leave the room. Was our simulation being interrupted by a real-world injury?

No, it was just the acting of Fuhrmann and her partner, UND junior Michelle Mudge.

“Where is my son,” yelled Mudge, who was playing a delirious 68-year old woman. “We’ll do our best to find him,” the ER doctor assured her, trying to calm her down.

Needless to say the tension was real.

At the end of it all, everyone benefited from this experience. First responders from Grand Forks and surrounding communities got hands-on experience in crash rescue training; paramedics and ER doctors got a taste of a mass casualty scenario. Even several UND Aerospace students received extra credit for their time.

“It was a thrill,” said Aerospace student Shane Gerbert. “As a pilot, it helps me appreciate the fact that I’m protected if all hell breaks loose.”

Several local, state and governmental agencies participated in the exercise on Wednesday. Federal Aviation Administration regulations require a full-scale crash exercise preformed periodically, under strict supervision.

“I was excited to be a part of this,” said Sarah Pfingsten, who studies commercial aviation at UND. “I had a great time today,” she added.