MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- Amidst the tragic crash of Blue Angel #6 and the death of Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Davis during the final moments of the Air Show here April 21, strategic planning and prior training allowed first responders - both military and civilian - to deal with the incident with professionalism and a sense of urgency.
Literally moments after the crash, Fightertown’s Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Marines were on scene, thanks to one key decision to pre-stage emergency equipment off-station in anticipation of the worst.
During all Air Show events and practices, an ARFF fourman P-19 crew and a rescue vehicle with a staff non-commissioned officer was staged at the Laurel Bay Fire Department to respond to any off-station incidents, because the main ARFF component was positioned on the far side of the air field, according to Master Sgt. Thomas Karambelas, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of ARFF.
“We decided to keep our truck in Laurel Bay so we would still be on a Department of Defense installation and we could get off base in a hurry,” Karambelas said.
Cpl. Nicholas Dale, a crew chief with ARFF, reflected on how having the P-19 stationed on Laurel Bay was essential to their rapid response.
“If that crew hadn’t been in Laurel Bay, the other crew wouldn’t have been to the scene until about 10 minutes after the incident,” Dale said. “Our first crew was there in approximately four minutes and ready to render first aid to the downed pilot.”
ARFF also decided to have all Marines on duty for the entire weekend, instead of observing the normal shift schedules. According to Karambelas, having the entire crew on duty when the mishap occurred was critical and looking back, having to re-call off-duty Marines would have drastically affected ARFF’s ability to respond.
“To me it wasn’t a big deal to have to work the entire weekend since I was already going to be there, but it was a smart idea to have both sections working,” Dale said. “I don’t think that one section alone could have run an emergency response by themselves. It was definitely a team effort.”
Although Dale wasn’t with the first P-19 crew on scene, his crew also served as part of the initial response to the incident and memories of the crash scene still resonate with him.
“It was hectic on scene at first,” Dale said. “It was a fast-paced situation, but everyone knew what had to be done and did it. This was also my first time for a situation like this and although we train for mishaps, it’s still a hard position to be in.”
Members of the Provost Marshals Office and the Air Station Structural Fire and Emergency Services Department also arrived within minutes of the crash and assisted ARFF on scene, as well as Beaufort County first responders.
As ARFF and local fire departments extinguished small ground fires, PMO and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department began to assess the scene by determining the extent of the impacted area and setting up appropriate security.
“Our first concern is human life, so as soon as we arrived on the scene, we were concerned with the pilot and the civilians who were around,” said Maj. Bart Logue, the provost marshal here. “Our second priority was containment of the scene. With this particular mishap, we had to figure out the area of the scene, which took a little while. It was difficult at first since there was a lot of commotion and the sun was setting.”
After determining the debris field, PMO set up a perimeter and assisted with evacuating families from the area that had been affected, according to Logue.
According to William Winn, the director of the Beaufort County Emergency Management Division, the American Red Cross was brought in to help with a myriad of essential tasks, including aiding those who had been injured, providing funding for temporarily displaced families as well as providing food, water and even counseling services for emergency personnel who were working around the clock.
A command center was set up on the site to allow all the various responders to work side-by-side in the recovery efforts. As in any situation, preparation was key and the time that Air Station and Beaufort County personnel spent training together in the past proved to be essential.
“All the meetings and training sessions over the years have really paid off,” Winn said. “It couldn’t have gone better. When you have a situation like this, it makes it easier because we’ve worked together before and know each other. They know our capabilities as we do theirs.”
Logue and Karambelas both agreed.
“We couldn’t have done everything we have done if we didn’t work with the County,” Logue said. “I can’t say enough good things about Beaufort County with what they provided to this operation. I’m very pleased with how everyone has come together.”
"The support we received from our fellow emergency responders, was unbelievable," Karambelas said. "Everyone worked together as a team whether they were military or civilian. We all had one goal in mind."
Although the Air Station and Beaufort County have worked together for years, it was the first time for Navy Capt. Russ Bartlett, the senior member of the Aviation Mishap Board, to work with Beaufort Marines, sailors and County employees.
“The efforts of the Air Station and Beaufort County have been outstanding,” Bartlett said. “We had all the support we could have asked for. It was been really awesome to have this move as fast as it has.”
Since the mishap, many Air Station Marines and sailors and members of Beaufort County EMD have supported the Blue Angels and the Aviation Mishap Board with their investigation.
“Our mission was to secure the site and locate, collect and photograph the parts of the aircraft,” said Maj. Drew Hess, the safety officer for the Blue Angels. “It’s all to report and help with assessing the situation that had occurred and why the aircraft crashed. Everyone has been absolutely phenomenal. It was obvious they have trained and worked together in the past.”
As the recovery process at the crash site concluded April 27, a small memorial service in honor of Davis was held the following morning. The ceremony allowed both military and civilian responders to come together and pay tribute to the fallen Blue Angel.
“Beaufort is a military town, but not any typical military town,” Winn said. “We are all family and it’s important. When they hurt, we hurt. We take care of each other and it was clearly demonstrated this week.”
Almost a week after the incident, all the recovered parts were transported to Pensacola, Fla., where an Aviation Mishap Board will determine the cause of the mishap, which is still under investigation. There is no specific timeline on an accident investigation, but the average time is approximately three months.