07 September, 2005

American Character

Soldiers' Angel Holly Aho has a wonderful letter from an Air National Guard pilot (and Iraq veteran) helping to evacuate the injured and ill in the aftermath of Katrina. He describes the pace of air evacuations on Friday and the action at the New Orleans Int'l Airport, which was open only to relief/evacuation flights:

...These pilots were practically landing and taxiing on top of each other. They came in fully loaded with sick personnel. Many right from the rooftops....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...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...They just stepped up to the plate and did 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.

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.

As he wrote in his introduction, "[What I saw] filled me with pride and reminded me again why we are such an amazing and successful country." Well, what I read did the same for me. Read the rest here.