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Three hour tour goes awry: MacDill personnel survive cruise ship disaster

by Senior Airman Robin Drake
Thunderbolt staff writer

Coast Guardsmen rescue an injured passenger during Fire Island 2005.

Photo by Senior Airman Robin Drake

Laughter and conversation among passengers and crewmembers passed throughout the ship. Excitement for the upcoming day's events filled the air. Suddenly the boat shuddered and rocked sideway with sounds of screeching metal and panicked screams. The cruise ship had been struck by another boat and was now on fire. The collision incident involving a cruise ship carrying thousands of people would have been a disaster. However, that was not the case for those aboard the Yacht Starship Feb. 9.

The U.S. Coast Guard coordinated the field training exercise, Fire Island 2005, which integrated more than 20 organizations active participation in the event, said Coast Guard Lt. Matthew H. Haynie, Marine Inspector, foreign and domestic vessels.

The exercise was held to simulate a cruise ship containing 3,500 passengers colliding with another ship, resulting in a galley fire. There were more than 25 simulated injuries requiring removal of those passengers. Several hours were spent dealing with exercise scenarios, which included a simulated birth aboard the ship, major and minor injuries, and passengers in the water.

"The purpose for the FTX was to get all of the organizations together to practice as if a real incident occurred here in Tampa Bay," said Lieutenant Haynie.

More than 66 volunteers from MacDill participated in the exercise, said Maj. David Cresswell, 6th Air Mobility Wing, Chief of Exercise and Inspections.

"Our involvement was important because we need to maintain our strong liaison with the Coast Guard and our other sister services," said Major Cresswell.

Volunteers for the event included active duty, civilian contractors and spouses. Participants in the exercise were tasked to play the roles of injured passengers, hysterical victims and general crowd members.

"I took a cruise on here a year and a half ago and just wanted to experience a ship disaster and to see how I would react," said Senior Airman Diane Precil, 6th Comptroller Squadron, Defense Travel System helpdesk representative.

MacDill participants arrived for the day-long exercise at 5:15 a.m. at the Base Hospital and were transported by buses to the Port of Tampa. The ship cast off at 7:30 a.m. with the exercise kick off scheduled for 8:30 a.m.

"It was good training for our people," said Troy Manthey, President and CEO of the Yacht Starship, adding, "you learn something from each one (exercise)."

On any other day, this type of scenario could have ended in tragedy. Due to the organizations involvement and the willingness of them to work together as a team all passengers survived the cruise ship disaster.




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