By Courtney D. Edited By Liz Millership
This month I had, hands down, the most bizarre experience I’ve had in Japan so far. On the morning of October sixteenth, I woke up and went to school as usual. After two periods, my supervisor picked up me and the other three Mihara JETs, as we were going to help out with an airplane crash drill at Hiroshima airport. Only one of us had participated in it before. Our supervisor hadn’t told us much about it but I figured that it would be no big deal.
Oh, how I was wrong.
Upon arriving, they led us into the room where everyone was getting briefed for the drill. As we walked in, we noticed that everyone was made-up with some sort of gory injury. There were people with prosthetics for missing arms, bones sticking out of their skin, burns, and one guy even had an eyeball popping out of his socket! We had been warned that they might put a little makeup on us….but this was like walking onto the set of a horror movie. We were quickly assigned our own injuries and a slip of paper with our vital statistics—it’s all about the details. Two of us had broken bones, one of us had lost our hearing in an ear injury, and I had an injured knee. Not the most exciting wound to dress up, but at least they didn’t have to cut my clothes up.
Yeah, that happened.
Once we were sufficiently bloody, they took us all out to the runway on a bus. Every inch of this bus was covered in plastic—I guess they didn’t want to get that bloody too! We had to weave our way though a massive crowd to get onto the runway. There were government officials, members of the army, DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Team), and a ton of other observers and participants present. I started guessing that this was a bigger deal than I had anticipated.
We were told to scatter on the runway and to act out our injuries. Some of us were a lot better at this than others. One woman had actual tears streaming down her face as she sobbed over her dead baby (morbid, I know). We JETs were asked not to speak any Japanese so that the respondents could practice rescuing foreigners.
And then it began. They played an audio recording of a plane crash, which was sufficiently disturbing. Then the sirens started and dozens of fire trucks rushed onto the scene. I remember being impressed by how far they were taking this simulation. And then, the fire trucks actually started fighting the fake fire! With real water and hoses and everything. We almost got soaked! A bunch of workers showed up while this was happening and escorted the “victims” who could walk to safety. I was not one of those people. I was given an emergency blanket instead and told to sit tight and wait for the paramedics to arrive. And so there we waited, some of us moaning and rolling around on the runway in pretend agony, for the “fire” to be put out and the medical personnel to arrive. Right now you’re probably thinking that they really went all out with this thing. I know that I was by this point. But just wait, it gets even better.
The emergency responders showed up, strapped us all to gurneys, and moved us to the safety zone. There we waited some more. And at this point, they landed a freaking real helicopter. Eventually, we were moved into a hanger where the medical teams proceeded to triage us and treat our wounds, just as they would in a real situation. They put bandages on us and medical tags on our wrists. It was a little unsettling actually. As I had a non-life threatening injury, I had to wait for one of the longest. After almost two hours of being asked if I was okay (“No! I’m in pain!”) and told to wait a moment (this started to get comical after awhile—”Are you okay?” “No.” “Okay, wait a moment”), I was transferred onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. Yes, a real one. Then we started to drive, and just as I was wondering if the drill would continue all the way to the hospital, they stopped at a drop off point and I was free!
This whole thing was pretty fun, bizarre and at times, fairly disturbing. But I have to say that my absolute favorite part was when they started playing the danger zone song as we were lying on the runway waiting to be rescued. What….the….hell…? What was this?! I understand the Japanese fondness for theme music, but during a plane crash drill? There’s nothing quite like having your imagined mortal peril be set to theme music.
Kind of makes you wonder, do they do this during the real thing?