It was only a drill -- a test exercise -- but Austin Bergstrom International Airport made the plane crash as realistic as they could.
Blanco County volunteers made it even more realistic than the planners expected.
The scenario Monday morning was an airliner landing on top of a private plane at ABIA. Firefighters and ambulance crews found "passengers" on board the burning plane, pretending to have a variety of injuries, requiring some ingenuity and skill in getting them out without making them worse.
Over at the main terminal, a crowd of volunteers playing the roles of family and friends waited for the arriving flight, only to be told of the crash, then herded into a holding area to wait for details. And wait. And wait.
Among those players were members of the Blanco County Disaster Response Group, growing more impatient and hostile as the hours passed with no information about their friends or family members on board the plane.
"Well, why CAN’T you find out anything about the victims," demanded Martha Mason of Blanco. "You've had two hours! Surely somebody knows something by now!"
George Barnette of Johnson City took a more direct approach. When authorities in the holding area couldn't help, he went off to find someone who could. Evading police and Transportation Security Administration officers, he slipped through restricted areas of the terminal in search of facts until finally intercepted by airport security.
The Blanco County contingent earned high marks for realistic behavior and just-pretend panicky response: trying to bull through TSA security to get a view of the crash, disrupting the airline ticket area demanding information from employees, and making cell-phone calls to news media to trade facts about the crash, the victims, and the plight of the families. They didn't really do those things, of course, but they did a good job of pretending.
"I called my lawyer and he told me to do this," Mason replied, when asked why she was writing down names and contact information of her fellow families-in-waiting. "We're going to file a class-action suit against the airline and the airport for the way we're being treated!"
Making life miserable for airport employees, psychological counselors and aid volunteers was a lot of fun, but there was a serious purpose. If there were a real incident at ABIA, airport managers know some parts of their plan will work -- and some won't -- and what can happen as a result.
"They're not the only ones who benefit," said Susan Hamm of Johnson City. "We learned as much as they did. We may put our lessons to work at home as members of the Disaster Response Group, or if we ever find ourselves in a similar situation. You never know when that experience may come in handy."
And ABIA learned another valuable lesson: If you plan to have a plane crash, make sure nobody from Blanco County is involved!