Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Craggy Island
Local Time: 03:22 AM
Flying into New Orleans
As many of you know, I own an aviation related business. As you would expect, we get a lot of emails from pilots and such and have been getting emails from folks related to the relief effort. I decided to post this one because it tells a story in detail, from a first hand perspective.
Flying into New Orleans yesterday
Sent by Bruce Sively.
The following is quite a bit different from what you have been hearing from many of the commentators and some pols.
I just returned from New Orleans on a hurricane relief mission in the
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
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.
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
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 flying.
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. Incredible!
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. Talk to ya'll soon and have a great day.