Preparing for terror at the Grand Canyon

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Preparing for terror at the Grand Canyon

By Liz Kotalik. CREATED Apr 25, 2013


Reporter: Liz Kotalik

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - The Grand Canyon is know to many as Arizona's crown jewel, but think about the landmark filled with terror and tragedy.

The gruesome and chaotic scene, all part of a taxpayer-paid disaster drill like this state has never seen before.

It took a year for Davis-Monthan to get it ready, and it was only one part of an almost three million dollar exercise called "Angel Thunder".

The scenario was detailed and thought-out:

After a tour bus crashed into two cars close to the canyon, tourists were pushed over the rim, scattered. 

Forty-seven helpless survivors were hanging on for dear life.

The local authorities arrived, and they quickly realized they needed the military's help. 

"We're trying to create a problem so that [the military and local law enforcement] can work together," Angel Thunder Logistical Manager Brandon Daugherty told Nine on Your Side. "We can capture one big lessons-learned data base that we would spread out to the community."

Organizers said the ultimate goal of Angel Thunder was to save human lives, a drill rescue teams and hospitals perform every year.

Doctors in Boston said that kind of practice saved lives when terror came to them.

But now, think about terror off the magnificent canyon: a mile deep without any soft landings, and a big city with big hospitals is more that 400 miles away in Phoenix.

At the canyon, there was triage on the rim, but others were not so lucky as they hung precariously from the canyon's crevasses, relying solely on a complex system of ropes and manpower.

Airmen and local law enforcement lowered down steal traps to bring up victims thrown over the edge, like Joseph Lane.

"When you look out and you're basically suspended in this cage almost, and you look out and you see nothing but air, yeah, it's a little intense," Lane said.

Just two hours into this emergency exercise, Davis-Monthan and local rescuers saved forty-one out of the forty-seven victims, and an hour later, everyone was brought back to safety.

Davis-Monthan had not  tried a rescue scenario this big since September 11th, but they said it was imperative to practice working with local law enforcement to make sure everything goes smoothly if something terrible happens anywhere in the area.

The immense beauty of the canyon attracts millions of tourists every year.

But disaster here, like everywhere, is always just one crash, one terrorist away, and now these teams at least are one step closer to being ready if it ever does.   


Liz Kotalik

Liz Kotalik

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Liz Kotalik is so proud to work in her home state of Arizona with her KGUN9 family. She anchors the 7 a.m. morning show "GMT Extra" on the CW Tucson every weekday, and also reports for later newscasts.