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08PORTLOUIS387 2008-11-10 11:04:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Port Louis
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1. (U) Summary. Airports of Mauritius Co Ltd (AML) held its
biannual disaster exercise at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam
International Airport (SSR), entitled "Fireball 2008," on November
6, with participation from over 20 agencies and offices, including
several diplomatic missions. The full-scale simulation dealt with a
fictional "Air Best" (an Air France plane was used) flight that
overruns the runway on takeoff and hits a localizer, resulting in
the aircraft breaking in two and catching fire, with emergency
response, crisis committee, and other disaster response centers
activating and responding. Over 50 actors were provided to play the
roles of passengers and crew, survivors and casualties, and family
members at the airport. Conoff acted as an observer in the
Relatives Reception Centre (RRC) and provided feedback to AML on the
exercise. End Summary.

2. (U) Fireball 2008 was a full-scale simulation crash exercise in
line with the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO)
Standard and Recommended Practices. The 2008 incarnation was the
fifth at SSR, with the first happening in 2000. Fireball 2008 was a
full-notice exercise (except for the exact start time) focused on
response, resources deployment, and crisis management attributes
with over 20 participating agencies, including various police and
emergency services, airlines, airport offices, fuel companies,
embassies, and other government offices. Planning for the event
started in late August and culminated with the event on November 6.

3. (U) Conoff participated as an observer and was stationed in the
Relatives Reception Centre (RRC). Actors portraying family members
of the passengers on board the crashed plane were brought by bus to
the RRC after being cleared by the airline in the terminal. The RRC
was to act as a holding area until survivors were brought to a
Reunification Centre. At one point, the "relatives" acted out,
demanding to see family members and attempting to storm out of the
room. While the police attempted to block the door, voices were
raised and one relative "fainted." She was picked up and laid on a
chair, then quickly moved to a table top. An airline official
called a nurse, who arrived roughly 20 minutes later. By then, the
fainted actor had regained consciousness and rejoined the fray at
the door.

4. (SBU) Comment. Conoff listened to the emergency response via
police radio and noted that the fire was handled quickly, and
ambulances arrived shortly thereafter. However, the exercise made
clear that the airline and airport staff is underequipped to deal
with a large number of relatives seeking information about family
members on the crashed plane. For example, the airline used a paper
system to check family members into the room, and had only 5
employees to handle the family of 120 passengers. The room had only
two desks for processing family members, which quickly resulted in a
back-up of people and confusion as to who had been checked in and
who had not. Magazines were provided, but placed in piles on a few
chairs away from the waiting family members and were noted only by
the observers. The airline was tasked to provide refreshments, but
did not bring any until one of the "relatives" demanded tea -- the
airline provided juice boxes and opened a few boxes of crackers.
There was a lack of distinct leadership in the RRC that allowed
things to get out of hand quickly -- while the police were able to
barricade the door, they could not do much to calm the crowd, which
should have been done by the airline employees.

PORT LOUIS 00000387 002 OF 002

5. (SBU) This exercise clearly demonstrated that, in the case of a
real emergency, embassy staff must be present at the crisis point to
assist with U.S. Citizens affected by the crisis. Conoff is actively
working with AML and airline officials to ensure that in the event
of an emergency, embassy staff will be able to play a large role in
multiple facets of response. AML officials have stated that they
have an expectation of embassies in Mauritius to aid during a
crisis, especially with passengers' relatives. End comment.