As Unalaska Processes Fatal Plane Crash, Officials Praise Emergency Response

Nov 12, 2019

Police officers, firefighters, and emergency medics were on the scene of the Saab 2000 plane crash within four minutes.
Credit Megan Thomson-Dean

It's been almost a month since a plane crashed at Unalaska's airport, killing one passenger and injuring more than a dozen others.

The accident required a major emergency response involving city staffers and volunteers, members of UniSea's safety team, and many others. While it was a big task for the community, local officials have said they're pretty happy with the effort.

Police officers, firefighters, and emergency medics were on the scene within four minutes of the Oct. 17 crash, setting up incident command and extricating passengers from the Saab 2000 plane.

From there, 15 people went by ambulance or personal vehicle to Iliuliuk Family and Health Services, according to Medical Director Dr. Megan Sarnecki. She said the clinic assembled a team of 20 providers and administrators.

"Knowing that it was a trauma situation, we go to our trauma room and we get supplies out — IV supplies, chest tube supplies. We just start getting things ready," said Sarnecki. "So even though it was fairly quick between the crash and the first patient's arrival, we were here and we were ready."

Sarnecki said their preparedness benefited from a training earlier this year when staff reviewed how to respond in high-level emergency scenarios, including airport accidents.

Clinic Director Melanee Tiura also said a number of volunteers showed up at the community health center with food, blankets, and offers to help the providers, as well as their partners at the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA). 

"I'm from a small town, so I'm accustomed to a good response," said Tiura. "But this was unlike any I've ever seen. The amount of compassion that poured out from people seeing where they could be helpful — that was great to see."

While city and medical officials said they're satisfied with the overall response, they have identified a handful of things that can be improved upon, including coordination and communication.

Police issued a public announcement asking Unalaskans to stop using their phones in the aftermath of the crash.
Credit City of Unalaska

Cell phone service went in and out after the accident — enough that police issued a public announcement asking Unalaskans to stop using their phones unless absolutely necessary. Local internet company Optimera Wi-Fi also volunteered to boost the clinic's signal to help the response. 

Officials are planning to update the city's emergency preparedness plan once they've collected feedback from all the agencies involved in the effort. 

In the meantime, Tiura said the community is still processing the crash. She encouraged Unalaskans to contact counselors at APIA for support.

"That kind of trauma — it affects you," said Tiura. "We're humans and we care about people. So we are encouraging them to continue to reach out, and [clinic staffers] are doing the same." 

To connect with providers and learn about available support resources, call APIA at 581-2751.

KUCB's Laura Kraegel contributed reporting.