- 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
- 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
- One of the many missions of the C-130 is basically a
flying hospital. We can literally set up an 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. These were not normal operations.
- These pilots were practically landing and taxing on top
of each other. They came in fully loaded with sick residents and survivors.
Many right from the rooftops. One New Orleans Airport fireman took on the
duty of aircraft marshaler 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 ol 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 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
- 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
- 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...