Team takes part in this evenings Major Incident Exercise at Manchester Airport alongside and at the invitation of our colleagues at Cheshire Search and Rescue Team

This evening, a small group of Bolton MRT members took part in a joint exercise at the invitation of our colleagues at Cheshire Search and Rescue Team, on the Cheshire County boundary of Manchester Airport.

Cheshire SART were holding this exercise (Exercise Snowfall) as a small part of a concurrent very large Major Incident Exercise taking place ‘airside’ at Manchester Airport – Exercise Snowdrop.

Eleven Bolton MRT members took part, meeting initially at our Ladybridge Hall Base / HQ to be activated to respond at circa 18.30hrs, at the request of and to assist, Cheshire SART.

The full Cheshire SART membership was involved, inclusive of their water team members, with a ‘live’ call out, albeit one that was an exercise.

Our operational members who attended were ; Team Training Officer Alistair Greenough, Equipment Officer – Base and Catering Paul Copley, John Dickinson, Steve O’Hara, Mark Scott, and Trainee Team members Gary Melia, Heath Doran, Neil Haigh, Steve James, Matthew Morris and Carole Truman.

They attended in two of our Land Rover Defender Mountain Rescue Ambulances, radio call signs Bolton Mobile 1 and 2, and our VW LWB Crafter Incident Control Vehicle Bolton Mobile 6.

Manchester Airport conducted this major incident exercise as part of their Civil Aviation Authority, Airport Certification.

This full-scale emergency exercise incorporated the airport’s emergency response plan and local authority emergency response.

The aim of the exercise was to enact the planned response to a major aviation incident at the airport, bringing together all the departments of the airport and the local authorities that border the airport – delivering on a multi-agency response.

with thanks to Mark Scott for this photo


A large number of agencies were involved in this evenings exercise including; Greater Manchester Police, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, Cheshire Constabulary, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, Manchester Airport Fire and Rescue Service and the North West Ambulance Service.

As part of the multi-agency response, Cheshire Search and Rescue Team had been invited to run a separate but concurrent exercise – the part we in Bolton MRT were involved in.

The aim of this part of the exercise was to test the Cheshire SART’s capabilities and the realistic response that can be provided to Manchester Airport and local authorities, in the event of a major incident at or near the airport.

The planned scenario for Exercise Snowdrop – the Major Incident Exercise entailed the following;

On final approach to runway 23L (Left) a Boeing 737-800, with six crew and forty passengers, declared an in flight emergency, with the crew reporting a full hydraulic failure and expectations of flight control difficulties and potential loss of directional control on landing.

The airport declared a full emergency, informing the North West Area Fire Control Centre, North West Ambulance Service and Greater Manchester Police.

They in turn declared a Major Incident and as part of the exercise  local hospitals and local authorities were placed on standby, with other resources also mobilised.

A safe touch down by the B737-800 was achieved on runway 23L but directional control (steering) was lost as its landing speed decreased, leading to a runway excursion three quarters of the way down the runway, at the ‘turning point’ on ‘Runway 2.’

The aircraft came to a halt with a collapsed nose wheel on the grass on the left hand side of the runway. The two flight deck crew carried out the appropriate drills from the Quick Reference Handbook (QRH) and initiated an evacuation.

Almost all The passengers safely evacuated using the slides and dispersed from the aircraft, leaving three passengers on board who were either trapped or seriously injured.

There were no fatalities.

The Airport Fire and Rescue Service was first on scene, followed shortly thereafter by the County Fire Appliances from both Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, together with the North West Ambulance Service and GMP, who jointly played out the exercise rescue and recovery operation around a ‘real’ Boeing 737-800 kindly provided by a major airline for the exercise.

The Cheshire Search and Rescue Team / Bolton Mountain Rescue Team Exercise Snowfall scenario entailed;

Cheshire Search and Rescue Team were called out as a precautionary measure in response to the Major Incident that was declared at Manchester Airport when a B737-800 declared an in flight emergency.

The Cheshire SART were tasked to search the area around the Bollin River Tunnel under Runway 2, near where the aircraft touched down, for any parts of the aircraft that may have come off during the incident – as well as ensuring there were no walking wounded passengers that had been unaccounted for.

Cheshire Search and Rescue Team then contacted ourselves at Bolton MRT for our assistance in providing additional resources.

Joint SART and MRT tasking’s included the need to search the River Bollin (up and down stream) of Runway 2 as well as adjoining fields and woodlands, from a point near ‘Hooksbank Wood’ to a point to the Northside of Runway 1. (Whilst remaining ‘Landside’ of the Airport boundary fence – outside of it, at all times)

Cheshire SART and Bolton MRT were specifically tasked to look for potential unaccounted walking wounded from the accident, members of public involved or injured, as well as articles relating to an aircraft that may or may not be a part of the incident scenario.

Both Exercise Snowdrop and Snowfall were held during live airport operations, with specific briefings taking place in this regards.

Manchester Airport remained fully operational throughout the exercises, with Runway 1 being used for take offs and landings, with Runway 2 being formally closed (no small matter) for this exercise.

A major consideration was also that during this time of heightened security threats, a watchful and observant eye is being kept on all happenings around the airport for suspicious behaviour or activity, so all operations were held with the notice of GMP and the Airport authorities.

Personal accounts of the exercise follow from two of our members present, firstly from our Team Training Officer Alistair Greenough;

“Eleven team members travelled to Castle Hill Farm at the southern end of the runway at Manchester Airport to work with Cheshire Search and Rescue Team as part of a bigger emergency preparedness exercise for the airport.

The scenario was that a passenger airliner had made an emergency landing due to a mechanical failure leading to parts of the aircraft becoming detached.

The initial phase of the exercise was to search and locate any items for recovery and also to ensure no members of the public had been injured by the debris.

The final part of the exercise was a shoulder to shoulder evidence search looking for parts of toy aircraft (they had to be thorough!!).

Once this had been completed all searchers returned to control for debriefing, with myself getting home at 01.00hrs on Friday morning, 6th March.”

The second account is from Bolton MRT Trainee Team member Gary Melia;

“It was a great exercise well organised and we were all made welcome right from the start by Cheshire Search and Rescue Team.

We started off being split into teams and given an area to search for what turned out to be a small plastic plane.

When the ‘plane’ was found the area was cordoned and protected to preserve forensics.

We were then all told to RV at the scene and given our next task.

This was to search the next area for smaller parts of the plane, – we all lined up shoulder to shoulder searching through thick shin shredding brambles (got the scars to prove it)

The first plane part was found by a member of the Bolton Mountain Rescue Team you’ll be glad to hear… a dashing young eagle eyed chap by the name of Gary (unusually for the Bolton MRT actually spelled correctly)

It was a part of a toy planes fuselarge about 1 1/2 X 1/2 an inch in the middle of a thick bramble patch!

We found another five or so ‘items’ between us (another one found by the same dashing young chap from Bolton).

It was all finished on scene by 23:00hrs and I was tucking in to a nice glass of wine by midnight.

The Bolton MRT would like to extend its thanks to Cheshire SART for their invitation to join them in this exercise.

In particular we would like to extend our thanks to Simon Lane, Team Leader of Cheshire SART who spent a considerable amount of time involved in discussing the involvement of Bolton MRT in this exercise with our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE.

We would also like to extend our thanks To Mark Susca of Cheshire SART, for his considerable involvement in the SART / MRT aspect of this exercise, bringing his knowledge as a commercial airline pilot and direct links in Air Accident Investigations to the exercise and his many liaisons at Manchester Airport.

We are reciprocating this exercise invitation, by hosting a joint exercise with our friends at Cheshire Search and Rescue Team on the evening of Wednesday 11th March 2015 in our team primary operational area – keep watching our website for news of this exercise, which will be in the Worsley area of Greater Manchester.