A NG (non-govt.) Helicopter Pilot's Comments
re New Orleans

Date: Sun, 18 Sep 2005 18:19:18 EDT
Subject: A NG Helicopter Pilot's Comments re N.O.

Here are some interesting and revealing observations from a helicopter pilot in action during the early days in New Orleans.

       A quick debrief from a Helo Pilot with the DC National Guard - pretty revealing!

      I'm back home for a few days while we work on our helicopters and wait for the crowd at the naval air station in NO to thin out.  I flew Wednesday, Friday, Monday, and Tuesday with the D.C.  Guard before we left.  My crew had 81 saves in the days we flew.  Tuesday, I couldn't find anyone alive who needed to come out, but we marked the location of 5 bodies for retrieval.

My unit got into NO as soon as the wind abated, and as soon as we could get fuel to sustain operations.  I've heard that the National Guard did nothing, but the "Red Cross" helicopters did a great job.  Guess what's painted on the side of our aircraft?

    Some observations:

      1) The mayor of NO, Nagins, dropped the ball in a huge way.  The whole fiasco at the Superdome and the people left there is in his lap.  The Governor also is culpable.

      2) We trained our enlisted men, specifically the Medics and Crew Chiefs, very hard on the rescue hoist.  During our deployment in Operation Enduring Freedom, we only had 2 hoist missions.  The same number is typical for an experienced Medic in a Guard Medevac unit over his whole career.  We now have Medics and Crew Chiefs with 50 hoists under their belts - many of them difficult precision hoists onto car hoods, 18 wheeler cab roofs, and onto covered porches.  We kept our Crew Chiefs and Medics together as battle roster crews and they developed advanced techniques early and amazed me with their skill and bravery.

      3) Some people just don't get it.  Yesterday, I flew over people with grills and coolers on their roofs, and they raised signs saying, "We OK." Two houses down, bodies were floating.

      4) The violence you heard about was only the tip of the iceberg.  One of our Guard members was with the Fish & Wildlife and deployed early to NO as security.  They encountered four dead men in a neighborhood who had been shot, execution style.  Their wives had been raped.

      5) Our hangar in Baton Rouge housed 300 Border Patrol agents with all kinds of exotic weaponry.  They were inserted into the bad neighborhoods and reportedly nailed about 25 of the goons from roving armed bands.  They then just withdrew and let them lay.

      6) Some have claimed that racism caused black people to be left while white people were brought out.  Of the 81 people I brought out, 2 were white.  Both thanked me.  Only 3 other people thanked us, as I recollect.

When we cruised over flooded neighborhoods, we'd say to each other, "Hey, this is a high dollar neighborhood.  Let's go back to the projects." We never pulled anyone out of a good neighborhood.  They left before the storm.

We were trying to maximize the number of saves we had, so we'd go to the "hood."

      7) There were more helicopters in NO than I've ever seen before.  We lost one of our Hueys doing a rooftop pickup.  He rocked back on his skids and broke through the roof, and was unable to free himself.  They hoisted the crew out and recovered the aircraft with a CH-47 a few days later.

      8) We all have personal firearms.  I briefed my crews to expect a
"Blackhawk Down" scenario if we went down.  Unbelievable over a US city.

      9) I flew within 100 yards of Air Force One at Louis Armstrong Int'l airport.  Bush flew in and out without shutting down the airspace.  I was cautioned by ATC to "not over fly THE AIRPLANE." I complied by flying back behind THE AIRPLANE and the following SUVs full of instant death.

      10) Two things would have made things better for us.  The first is Iridium phones.  10 at each flight facility would have made all the difference.  Our radio communications sucked.  The second is getting our own refuel tankers in place early.  By the time they got ready to refuel us, the Naval Air Station and Louis Armstrong Int'l were pumping fuel.

      11) The airspace over NO turned into the Wild West.  All the other aircraft over the city were using our VHF and UHF internal frequencies for the first few days.  As time went on, the airport towers came back on line and we started using the normal freqs again.  I saw every conceivable helicopter over NO, including Soviet designs.

      12) I'm glad to be home for a few days.  The Search and Rescue phase is over.  Now, it's all body retrieval and cleanup. 

      13) We're still waiting for the French contingent to show up.  Don't hold your breath!!!  

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