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Herc Driver's Report on Katrina Rescue Ops

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Herc Driver's Report on Katrina Rescue Ops

Old 8th Sep 2005, 22:22
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Herc Driver's Report on Katrina Rescue Ops

This kinda sums it up.....

Here is an account by an Air National Guard pilot of some of the relief
efforts going on in New Orleans.


Hi everyone,

I just returned from New Orleans on a hurricane relief mission in the C-130.

Let me just start by saying I was awed. Not in what I saw in destruction
and devastation because I had/have already seen enough of that on TV. What
really hit me hard was the absolute determination and willingness of all
those involved in the relief effort. I just want to quickly tell you what
I was a part of and what I witnessed as it just really filled me with pride
and reminded me again why we are such an amazing and successful country.

It started when I showed up for the flight in Nashville. Instead of the
flight planning I would normally do (the other pilot did it), I was tasked
to call all 60 or so of the pilots from the 105th Airlift Squadron (my
squadron) and find out their availability to fly hurricane relief missions.

Now, don't forget these are all Air National Guard men and women and most
all have full time jobs outside of flying for the Guard. Almost without
exception, every pilot offered whatever assistance was needed.
No surprise.

I then jumped in the airplane and flew directly to New Orleans Int'l, which
was and is only open to relief efforts. We had on board with us an aero
medical evacuation team. They are a group of highly trained nurses and med
techs that are qualified in evacuating wounded and sick soldiers from the
battlefield and keeping them alive enroute to a medical facility.

One of the many missions of the C-130 is basically a flying hospital. We
can literally set up and intensive care unit in the back if needed. So,
with our team of aero meds and flight crew on board, we set course for New
Orleans with the rough idea that we would transport injured and sick people
to Elington Field, TX (Houston, TX). From there we would fly to Alexandria,
LA, Charlotte, and then back to Nashville. Our mission ended up evacuating
one of the VA hospitals' patients as well as several civilians.

The weather was not great once we neared New Orleans. We made it in and
were met by an airport SUV that led us to what is normally an airline
passenger gate. The difference was the gates housed medical teams (mainly
military that had just arrived) and scores of sick refugees (for lack of
better term). We squeezed ourselves into a parking spot perpendicular to a
C-141 and next to two C-17's. There were other Air Force planes on the
ground as well. By the time we finally left, five other C-130's and another
C-17 had joined us.

What happened next just really made my heart swell with pride. From every
direction and in about 15 to 45 second intervals, helicopter after
helicopter continued to land right next to us. It was a mix of Army
Blackhawks, Coast Guard helicopters as well as Marine and Army. They were
joined by what must have been 15 "Flight for Life" helicopters from
hospitals all around the Southeast. I saw Miami, Arkansas, and many other
names painted on the sides. This was not normal operations.

These pilots were practically landing and taxing on top of each other. They
came in fully loaded with sick personnel; many right from the rooftops. One
New Orleans Airport fireman took on the duty of aircraft marshaller and
marshaled in choppers left and right. The helos would unload and then take
right back off. It was not uncommon for a helicopter to be on the ground
less than two to three minutes and then blast back off. We were basically
parked in the triage area. These helicopters were immediately met by ground
personnel who helped the people off the helos and if they couldn't walk,
they put them on a stretcher or just flat carried them. What makes it so
extraordinary is when I realize that these ground personnel were just the
airport workers, airline employees, cart drivers, fireman, and then the
staff of all the emergency teams. It was amazing. They were not
necessarily trained for the jobs they were/are undertaking. They just
stepped up to the plate and did it. The tower and ground controllers
were coordinating airplanes and helicopters like they had never imagined
in their most terrible nightmares and were doing a very good job of it.

There were literally so many helicopters coming in and out of the triage
area that I do not understand how the tower guy could see through them all
to control the planes once they landed. The little baggage trailers and
tugs that you normally see zipping around the airport were being used to
move survivors out to the airplanes. They can best be described as mini
ambulances. The terminals at the airport were triage and staging areas.
The airport vehicles that are usually operated by airport managers and
security were leading airplanes and helicopters to newly created parking
spaces. Then the huge thunderstorm hit to make matters even worse.
Thunder, lightening, and driving rain pounded the airport and surrounding
area for over 1.5 hours.

The helicopter pilots and crews never stopped. Everyone was so determined
and working with such purpose. I literally watched this one helicopter
bring people in a then leave again for another load four times in the 1.5
hour long torrential rain storm. This pace was not uncommon.

Another thing that exemplified the unselfishness of the rescuers was this
one old and worn out red and white helicopter. It looked like something
that does heavy lifting for construction up on mountains. Basically, it did
not look like one that was designed to carry people and conduct search and
rescue. From all I can tell, it was just a privately owned helicopter that
the two pilots decided they were going to make work for this. I still
remember the pilot in the left seat. He just had on jeans, tennis shoes and
some kind of old shirt. He was a little overweight, but you could just see
the determination and purpose on his face as he brought that big helo in run
after run after run.

Don't misinterpret what I am describing. The military guys were doing this
too, but I did not expect this from some private company or individual.

It just was incredible. Absolutely incredible. There is no way the helos
should have been flying in this weather. If this was just some regular
mission or training flight, you can bet your kids Super Play Station that
they would not have been flying. It would have been easier and probably
safer to floss a shark's teeth them to have gotten these guys to stop

The same thing went for everyone working to organize and evacuate the sick,
hurt, and elderly inside the airport. The process was a little slower than
ideal, but it is a massive undertaking not ever encountered by the agencies
initially put in charge. Long story short, the Air Force medical teams got
in there and got the ball rolling. As we left, a medical evacuation command
post was coming on line, which will significantly speed up the process of
bringing people into the airport and them putting them on planes to fly out.

Another one of our Nashville C-130's was on the ground with us. They
received their patients first. Once they could not physically fit anymore
on their plane, they left and we took they next group. Our aero med team
and flight crew just started helping the people who could barely walk onto
the plane and assisted in the loading of stretchers.

Back to selflessness, we were also joined by two doctors who had been
assisting in all the relief efforts at Tulane Hospital. They decided to go
on the flight with us. One was an MD in his 7th year of surgery residency
and the other was an MD who worked full time at Tulane hospital. They had
been working nonstop since the hurricane. Another resident MD told me how
after the hurricane hit he had to go home and get some sleep. He awoke to
rising water at his place, so he got in his kayak and paddled down the
street, past looting, which he said was very unnerving, and into Tulane
hospital where he has been working ever since. The great American spirit is
indeed alive and well.

We ended up taking 20 patients on litters (military for stretcher) and 31
people (not healthy at all) that could sit up for a total of 51 to Elington
Field, TX. We arrived there and were met by what can only be described as
an eye watering reception. We called the field 20 minutes out and let them
know we would be landing shortly and passed on our patient information.

Well, let me tell you something. As we taxied in I looked towards our
parking spot and I must have counted 30 ambulances and a line of hospital
workers/volunteers with wheelchairs at the ready lined up 50 deep. There
was another equally long line of paramedics with gurneys. These people had
it together. We shut down engines and then watched as Elington's smooth
operation kicked into gear. The sickest of the sick were rushed to
hospitals. Everyone else was given food, cold drinks, seen by a social
worker, doctor, and other specialists. Then, one of the head NASA people
there gave me his car to go to Jack in the Box to get food for the crew.

By this time we were running out of our 16 hour crew day and we still had
two more stops. Unfortunately, we couldn't get to it all as we had to head
right back to Nashville, but another crew picked up the mission. I will be
doing missions similar to this one tomorrow (Fri) and Saturday. Our Guard
Base (TN Air National Guard) is flying six of our eight or nine airplanes
out tomorrow in direct support of rescue operations. We plan on doing this
for the foreseeable future.

Overall, I cannot do justice to all the good I saw today just by writing. I
wanted to try though. Basically, the operation set up down there at the New
Orleans Airport is one eerily similar to that of Baghdad Int'l airport when
I was there for over eight months. Just a hive of activity with people
pushing their bodies and aircraft to the max. No one complains, they just
get the job done and worry about the rest later. Every citizen of this
country should be so proud of what their fellow citizens are doing for each
other. The pressure they are working under knowing these sick and stranded
people do not have time on their side is unexplainable. Our country is one
of great strength and determination. It is evident in all the rescue and
relief efforts that are taking place down there. If the hard work and pure
grit of all the rescue and medical personnel I witnessed today are of any
indication of the eventual outcome of this indescribable tragedy, then we
are on the absolute fast track to victory.

I just want to add one more thing. I did not write this all out to
highlight myself. In fact it is quite the contrary. I want all of you to
know the efforts that are being made from the individual level to the
highest level of government. Nothing is being held back. I just happen to
fly an airplane from one field to another and am very happy to do it.

Please say some extra prayers for all of those suffering due to hurricane
Katrina and for all of those working to save lives and rebuild a city.
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Old 9th Sep 2005, 02:59
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Thanks for posting. Sounds like a job well done.
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Old 9th Sep 2005, 04:59
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This is just what anyone would expect from their military, just a shame all that effort wasn't made for several days after the event. I don't know what the US press are saying but most people on this side of the pond wonder how to reconcile the apalling lack of government (both local and federal) support with the claim that you are such 'an amazing and successful country'. Why are there still teams of 'rescue 'workers refusing to recover the bodies from the water? What is the environmental impact on the Gulf Of Mexico from pumping millions of gallons of heavily polluted water into it (and does anyone care)?
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Old 9th Sep 2005, 08:33
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how to reconcile the apalling lack of government (both local and federal) support with the claim that you are such 'an amazing and successful country'
I don't think that's really a valid criticism. We've all become far too complacent in our comfortable lives, expecting our nations to somehow cover all the worst case scenarios.

No matter how much gold a state may have in the vault, we should all be ready to be humbled by nature. The are no "super" powers in comparison to the forces the planet itself can unleash.

What the US nation should ultimately be measured by is not how successfully it prevented the tragedy (ultimately there's always something you can't protect against), but how well the people are cared for afterwards. It's been a while coming but it looks to me like there are thousands of people down there doing a sterling job.

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Old 9th Sep 2005, 08:56
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Thank you Sasless for relaying this report from the front lines.

It gave me tears in my eyes.
The TV news here in Europe mainly focused on NO terrible plight and of course the slow reaction ,but to read what is really going on from the horses mouth is priceless and exactly what I was looking for.

It confrimed my faith in the human race. And it goes to show the image of the Amrican's is unjustified.

I also just saw on TV how Sean Penn went to rescue people in NO using a dinghy and walking in the floods. Plus John Travolta flying medical supplies in and Oprah as well as Julia Roberts reassuring folks in Houston.


We keep praying for you all.
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Old 9th Sep 2005, 09:17
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Excellent post there SASless!

Its great to see how much of a difference people can make to someones life in the face of tragedy!

Keep up all the good work boys and girls. If given the chance i would be out there helping you all.

Lets just hope that in these tradgic circumstances it opens the eyes of the world to see just how useful a helicopter can be at the hands of a skilled pilot!

Keep those evacs going!!!!

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Old 9th Sep 2005, 09:33
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Well done, SASless, to you and all.

Over here, we have heard your senior police officers mention more than once that a situation like this always brings out the worst and the best in people.

We have seen on the news examples of the worst, now you have given us an example of the best, and in a most graphic manner.

Well done again.
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Old 9th Sep 2005, 12:48
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I want you to put this disaster into perspective....try to imagine the entire land area of the UK....all 94,000 square miles of it (approximately)....with 500,000 (or more) homeless and/or displaced persons.....with the entire area....all of it...without electricity, telephones, drinking water....roads blocked, bridges down, railways blocked, bridges down, airports closed due to all of the above....no fuel or very limited fuel supplies.

Now, respond to all of that...and get round to everyone....remembering the evacuation of New Orleans did not take place per the official Emergency Preparedness Plan. How long does it take to mobilze 40,000 troops and get the logistics train set up....establish on site bases for operation...get fuel, food, and tentage established.
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Old 9th Sep 2005, 15:01
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most people on this side of the pond wonder how to reconcile the apalling lack of government (both local and federal) support with the claim that you are such 'an amazing and successful country'.
You can be successful because you are lucky - just don't confuse luck with skill...
What is the environmental impact on the Gulf Of Mexico from pumping millions of gallons of heavily polluted water into it (and does anyone care)?
People care, but what are the options? New Orleans is THE most vital port city for our heavy industries, agriculture and energy imports and exports. Since we are an major exporter of basic foodstuffs (grains, beans etc), the fate of New Orleans is of interest to much of the world. Hindsight is 20/20, and there's no question that political and budgetary maneuvering created a much larger disaster out of what would have been pretty bad anyway, but what's done is done, and it is in the world's best interest that New Orleans is brought back to life as soon as possible. It may well be plain old arrogance that exacerbated this disaster - now let's see if we can learn from it and move on!
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Old 9th Sep 2005, 20:39
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Thank you for your service SASless, both here, and in Iraq.

Thank you for showing what the real people are doing; rolling up their sleeves and getting down to doing the work; it's refreshing to get an acount of true everyday heroes and not just another bashing and blame game rant.

I hope you don't mind, but I posted a link to this on my blog, I hope that meets with your approval.

I think it's important for as many people as possible to see this, it seems that all the main stream media can do is try to dishearten us with bashing and blame, and totally ignoring the people dedicating their best efforts to helping pick up the pieces.http://delftsman.mu.nu/
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Old 9th Sep 2005, 21:40
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"They were not necessarily trained for the jobs they were doing. They just stepped up to the plate and did it."

Yep! That's what happens when your ordinary joe (and josephine) forgets all of today's Health and Safety, and Ambulance Chasers R Us, and 'do you have a piece of paper that says you're qualified?' bullsh!t and just gets on with what has to be done. Talk about the leaders trailing the led...
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Old 10th Sep 2005, 05:48
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SASless. nobody questions the size and scale of the disaster but a big country needs big plans and big answers. Why when evacuating the city do they only use one side of the freeway and then sit in a monster traffic jam? Why were the water convoys equipped in Texas on the Monday but not deployed until the Thursday? Why are there still bodies floating in the water being ignored by those sent to clear up and assist? Why did gun sales in areas where the displaced persons were being sent rocket sky high?
I like America but until the general population stop patting themselves on the back for achieving medicority then you won't deserve the 'greatest country' accolades you are you quick to give yourselves.
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Old 10th Sep 2005, 09:10
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Let's keep Crab's point for another time/thread - I've been in those Yank debriefs where they lost the fight but won the debrief - couldn't believe it, was stunned by the arrogance/blindness - but let's save that for another time.

Regardless of nationality, there will always be those humans who will step up to the plate and be counted, shun publicity and get on with the job in hand, ie, they realise that the reams of paperwork and regulations can actually wait until the job is done, whilst the person in the hi-viz vest runs around headless with a folder under their arm and a mobile phone stuck to their ear (switched off no doubt)

There will always be those humans who talk the talk, sit on the toilet and don't crap, and generally succeed on the back of other peoples' efforts.
One such person has been sent back to his desk in Washington, it was just a shame that it took a real situation to weed him out - no doubt lives ended as a result of such a human beings ineptitude.
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Old 11th Sep 2005, 04:36
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Jevs, give us a break with the stone throwing, now is not the time. I've been in the area since day 1 and have nothing but admiration for everyone involved; pilots, ATC, law enforcement, politicians (to an extent), relief workers, responders, locals.....everyone!

The scale of this disaster is unimaginable. Hurricanes come and go in this part of the world and complacency is, in my opinion, mitigated and unavoidable. Pre-emptive action on the scale required is just not in the book for what Katrina did. There are many lessons to be learnt from the event and let's hope that the right organisations hoist them in.

On the ground, however, the response has been an incredible effort. For the first few days, the only means of real time comms was with satellite links, ALL comms were down. Can you imagine what a problem that causes, I didn't! No-one knew who had fuel, no-one knew what ATC agencies were available, you simply had to tune to the frequency and make the call, if there was no answer, blind calls had to do. You could not fly to minimum fuel because it was uncertain where you would get your next refuel. After two days, there was still no real ATC, a couple of towers had very poor comms with makeshift sets and could only provide an advisory service at best for the 50/60 helicopters overhead at any one time, the rest were on the ground refueling/discharging casualties/evacuees.

I don't want to hear any criticism from armchair heroes who know better, there was something to be done and every single person involved mucked in and did their bit.....end of story. I am very impressed with the whole operation and "mediocrity" is a very unfair word to use!

The single lane highway I think you refer to was a single lane because the other lane had been whacked by an oil rig for pete's sake, do you really think they would close one lane just because?

Flying past dead bodies was, at one point, essential, they were dead, and there were too many live bodies still to find.

The current situation is more organised. ATC is improving daily and the high volume military movement is over. They are still in the area but the emphasis on rescue is over, it is now on assessment/recovery, and that is much more a commercial operation.

Cut it out Jon.

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Old 11th Sep 2005, 14:38
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I posted an article that came from a newspaper...it talked of floods, thousands being made homeless....and years later...the very area and its residents were completely unprepared. It appeared the people there had not learned the lesson. The article went at length to discuss the short comings of all concerned. It was in the UK they were talking about.

It is plain that your grasp of geography and Disaster Response is limited. A simple google search will locate dozens of articles describing all roads out of the coastal areas being one way roads....Both sides of the motorways....I might suggest to you that if all roads lead out of the area....then no one is going in. Simple binary math concepts confirm that.

You criticize the USCG for using baskets....and ignore the fact they did over 1500 Winch rescues in one day. How many has your outfit done in its history? Care to answer that question?

Get a grip Crab....you want to make comments like your last one....take it to Jet Blast.....leave that out of Rotorheads please.
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Old 11th Sep 2005, 15:26
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Tam, my remark about mediocrity was not directed to the rescue operation but, as EESDL realised, a general criticism of the often unjustified superiority professed by the American nation.
The TV in UK showed a bunch of 'rescue and recovery' workers arguing that they were not responsible for getting bodies out of the water - some of them just ignored the reporter when asked pointed questions about the issue - this was a time when all the rescuing had been done. I have no issue with flying past or ignoring corpses when there is life to be saved but when that is done someone has to do the recovery - and yes, even as an armchair hero I have zipped corpses into body bags and carried them into the aircraft.
There was extensive footage of the exodus from New Orleans and nowhere did they use the opposite side of the carriageway - it can't all have been damaged by an oil rig.
I am sure that the aviation community has responded professionally and done a superb job - I'm not so sure about some of the ground units but I can only go on what I see on TV.

Sasless - I reckon the UK SAR force does about that many in a year but quantity doesn't mean quality. I believe the USCG favours the basket because it reduces the number of crew in a fairly underpowered helicopter - I just think it's a crap way of rescuing people if you have a choice but it beats not rescuing them.
I'm not going to defend disaster planning in UK - it all comes down to money and, just as in NO, if the perceived risk is not high, then no-one will spend the money, no matter how many reports and recommendations are made.
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Old 11th Sep 2005, 15:43
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Why the USA bashing? It seems like once again somewhere in the world, when something tragic has happened, helicopter pilots have "stepped up to the plate" and worked tirelessly, and professionally, to save hundreds. This forum is about helicopter issues isn't it? Why the constant references to US policy and politicians? If you have an issue with US policy, write to the State Dept. I'm sure given the chance we would all be there to lend a hand. Regardless of the nationality, there are a lot of people doing the best they can in extremely difficult circumstances. For every story of looting and violence, I bet you find a hundred more of ordinary people going out of there way to help someone.

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Old 11th Sep 2005, 17:13
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I know it will come as a shock to you...but all things British are not necessarily superior to all other things...as all things American are not superior to all others.

I also suggest your concept of relative quality is a bit prejudiced as demonstrated by prior statements you have made....and had challenged by your very own colleagues.

A simple example is your diatribe about "Rescue Swimmers" a while back.....I dare say a discussion of helicopter Air-Air refuelling capabilities by SAR assets would not be a topic you would care to go into when assessing relative merits of SAR units.

Just because an outfit uses different techniques and procedures to your own....does not make them inferior by any means.

Who knows Crab....it just might be yours that are still in Wellington's Time mode.
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