Saturday, September 10, 2005

Navy Pilots Who Rescued Victims Are Reprimanded

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"We're not technically a search-and-rescue unit, but we're trained to do search and rescue," said Lieutenant Shand, a 17-year Navy veteran.

Flying over Biloxi and Gulfport and other areas of Mississippi, they could see rescue personnel on the ground, Lieutenant Udkow said, but he noticed that there were few rescue units around the flooded city of New Orleans, on the ground or in the air. "It was shocking," he said.

Seeing people on the roofs of houses waving to him, Lieutenant Udkow headed in their direction. Hovering over power lines, his crew dropped a basket to pick up two residents at a time. He took them to Lakefront Airport, where local emergency medical teams had established a makeshift medical center.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Shand landed his helicopter on the roof of an apartment building, where more than a dozen people were marooned. Women and children were loaded first aboard the helicopter and ferried to the airport, he said.

Returning to pick up the rest, the crew learned that two blind residents had not been able to climb up through the attic to the roof and were still in the building. Two crew members entered the darkened building to find the men, and led them to the roof and into the helicopter, Lieutenant Shand said.

Recalling the rescues in an interview, he became so emotional that he had to stop and compose himself. At one point, he said, he executed a tricky landing at a highway overpass, where more than 35 people were marooned.

Lieutenant Udkow said that he saw few other rescue helicopters in New Orleans that day. The toughest part, he said, was seeing so many people imploring him to pick them up and having to leave some.

"I would be looking at a family of two on one roof and maybe a family of six on another roof, and I would have to make a decision who to rescue," he said. "It wasn't easy."
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Link to nytimes (requires free registration)