Prepare your SWAT team for a crisis on a plane

Imagine the radio in your squad or on your belt suddenly squawks: “Respond to the airport — there is a man on board flight 111 who says he has a bomb.”


Has your tactical unit trained for a ‘man with a bomb’ call at your local airport? If not, you are not alone. It is not unusual for this blind spot in planning and training to exist.

If you haven’t prepared at all for an incident on a plane — but wish to do so — it may be difficult to know where to start. Further, once you’ve begun, this preparation and training may prove difficult to accomplish. However, here is some food for thought.

Start at the airport. Arrange for a session with airport police/fire as well as a technician — or several technicians — from the carrier(s) at your airport. Explain to them it is a meeting to develop a plan to begin training for worst-case scenarios at the airport. 

Direction of Fact Finding
The first part of pre-planning for this event is to determine the location at the airport — a remote section of apron, for example — where an endangered plane can be diverted so as to best ensure:

1.    Minimum casualties in the event of the worst case scenario.
2.    Containment of the problem.
3.    A most effective emergency medical response.
4.    A quick unobstructed tactical approach.
5.    A quick and efficient evacuation of endangered passengers.

Important! Once a commandeered plane is on the ground, there are few — if any — good reasons to allow it to take off again. A believable terrorist with a fake bomb can inflict 100 percent plus casualties with an airplane in flight, whereas he can’t inflict any on the ground. It’s also important to note that allowing a plane to refuel will merely make any explosion caused by a terrorist more deadly. 

Questions to Ask
The technician should be able to answer these important questions:

1.    How can a tactical unit immobilize a plane on the ground?
2.    Where are the blind spots on the plane for a best approach option?
3.    How can a team gain access onto a plane from the outside in an emergency?
4.    How do you facilitate the rapid emergency evacuation of a plane?
5.    How do you facilitate the use of the jet bridge for boarding and disembarking?
6.    Where are the danger areas for a tactical team on and around a plane?
       a.    Where should a team not walk?
       b.    Where should a team not shoot?
       c.    What kind of SWAT devices, munitions, and tools would do more harm than good on a plane?
7.    What are the widths and heights of accesses and aisles on a plane?
8.    Are there any tactical experts on this topic available to assist you in your planning/training?
9.    How long will it take these resources to arrive?
       a.    The EOD / Bomb Unit
       b.    A state combined unit or federal unit
       c.    Fire and Rescue for stand-by (always)
       d.    An identical plane and pilot to practice your emergency entry plan, while negotiations are in progress

These questions are best answered while a plane is made available for a walk-around during the meeting with the technician from the airlines. The knowledge gathered during this session will help you shape your planning and training for a possible event.

Hands-on Training
Armed with what you learned in the initial meetings, you can start formulating plans and developing training in the specific skills you will need to conduct a rescue on a plane. 

These skills consist of:

1.    Approaching from a blind spot.
2.    Delivering negotiation equipment.
3.    Breaching and entry of a plane.
4.    Surrender rituals on a plane.
5.    Physical control and arrest drills on a plane.
6.    Limited-space movement drills: 
       a.    Done with stealth
       b.    Done with verbalization. (One option is “Police! Heads Down! Hands Up!”
7.    Skills executed in full gear and equipment.
8.    Live-Fire using mock set up on the range using threat and friendly targets.
9.    Actual scenarios done with Simunitions equipment.

How you use your ballistic shields in your planning will most likely be altered, when you actually practice in the space available within the planes, which land at your airport.

You will notice that many aircraft aisles are narrow, making it difficult to move and shoot in a traditional manner. To address this, I sought out and trained with the late Paul Castle and discovered that adding his Center Axis Relock shooting technique to my repertoire gave me an additional option for shooting accurately in confined spaces like on a bus and/or an airplane.

A Training Plane
You might consider looking into doing what forward-thinking law enforcement trainer Aaron Tomlinson from Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton (Wis.) recently did. Tomlinson was able to acquire a donated, out-of-service 727 courtesy of Fed-Ex.

It was relocated to the training complex Fox Valley Tech is currently in the process of building (scheduled to open in 2015). The plane has been set up on site to enable law enforcement to realistically train for addressing plane-related police problems. 

Post 9/11
Preparing for a crisis on an airplane makes perfect sense, considering the two most horrific attacks against our homeland in history were launched when we thought we were at peace. Both attacks caught us off guard. Both attacks were facilitated by the use of airplanes. 

Juma Ikangaa — a winner of eight international marathons — once said something that fits not only this situation, but all tactical situations you may face in your career.

“The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare,” Ikangaa said.

You most certainly all have the will to win, but the question for you and your agencies is, “When it comes to potential problems that might arise on an airplane at your airport, do you have the will to prepare?”

About the author

Lt. Dan Marcou retired as a highly decorated police lieutenant and SWAT Commander with 33 years of full time law enforcement experience. He is a nationally recognized police trainer in many police disciplines and is a Master Trainer in the State of Wisconsin. He has authored three novels The Calling: The Making of a Veteran Cop , S.W.A.T. Blue Knights in Black Armor, and Nobody's Heroes are all available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. Visit his website and contact Dan Marcou

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