Airport firefighters highlight importance of training for plane landings in nearby rivers, lakes

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Firefighters with Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport spent the day on the water on Thursday to prepare for the rare case that a plane goes down in a nearby river or lake.

It’s part of required training by the Federal Aviation Administration, but something the firefighters hope they never have to respond to in real life.

"That’s the hardest part of when a plane crashes is getting to them," said Dan Olson, captain with the MSP Fire Department. "The seconds could mean life or death for somebody, for sure."

"People will not do well the longer they’re in that environment," Bob Koenig, chief of the MSP Fire Department, added.

Olson and his crew rotated shifts at the nearby Fort Snelling State Park boat launch, practicing loading a specialized airboat in and out of the water and re-creating rescuing passengers.

"The first thing I think of is how difficult it is," Olson said.

Koenig said the conditions on the water can change all the time, making rehearsing the response even more important.

"If we don’t time it right, it’s virtually impossible to pull them into the boat and rescue them," Koenig said.

Officials say the boat is so loud that they have to rely on other ways of communication, including headsets.

"Communication is difficult so learning to use hand signals, gestures in order to communicate as a crew," Koenig said.

While the equipment and the mission may be different than these firefighters are used to, they know it’s crucial training.

"We keep practicing it, and we gotta be prepared," Olson said.

The MSP Fire Department will conduct similar training during the winter.