THE EMERGENCY services were scrambled earlier this month to deal with a "major aviation incident" at Biggin Hill Airport.

At 5pm on Monday January 5 Air Traffic Control (ATC) was alerted to a "full emergency" on an inbound aircraft, with 35 passengers onboard.

The event was actually a staged night-time simulation, designed to assess the effectiveness of the airport’s response to serious incidents.

Biggin Hill Airport’s rescue and firefighting service was joined by other fire teams as well as the police, ambulance crews and Red Cross personnel to play roles in the exercise.

A group of volunteers meanwhile acted as the plane’s public, many of whom were students from Bromley College.

Public services student Stephanie Dewick, 18, from Beckenham, said: "It was very weird in the cabin in the dark - but an interesting experience".

While 17-year-old Christopher Pokorny, of Sydenham, also at the college, was a "survivor". He said: "It was a strange experience in the darkness, exciting and scary - but I did feel safe and in good hands."

The event was undertaken in real time and saw the aircraft’s pilot call ATC notifying staff of "difficulty deploying the main landing gear".

The warning prompted an immediate emergency rescue, with firefighters tackling flames, breathing apparatus delivered to casualties and even a Red Cross ‘survivor reception area’ in the terminal.

Afterwards the response teams attended a debriefing, where they were given points to improve - though overall those in charge said the operation had been a resounding success.

Andy Mellers, the airport’s senior fire officer, said: "To have the opportunity to work so closely with all our emergency service colleagues will, without doubt, ensure our preparedness in the unlikely event that we are faced with an incident of this nature."

Daniel Cartwright, London Fire Brigade’s commander in the borough, who witnessed the exercise, gave it the seal of approval.

"It was pleasing to see all the emergency partners working so effectively together," he said.