So That Others Might Live...
Though it is a city
without electricity, rescue crews see plenty of lights as they fly
over New Orleans each night searching for survivors in the
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Sporadic fires burn wildly, but through their night-vision
devices, combat search and rescue crews from the Air Force Reserve
focus their attention on the flickering flashlights that dot the
blackened landscape “like a night sky full of
“When you look down on the city at night you see hundreds,
hundreds of thousands of flashlights,” said Master Sgt. Greg
Bisogno, a pararescueman with Air Force Reserve Command’s
920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. “Because of
our combat capability, we can see them and get to them in the
Working around the clock, reservists and active-duty crews fly
8- to 12-hour missions in HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters staged out of
Jackson, Miss. As the relief effort continues, the Air Force
Reserve, Air National Guard and active-duty teams have saved
thousands of survivors from rooftops and other isolated
“On our second night, we found about 200 people trapped on
a bridge,” said Sergeant Bisogno. “We’d land and
load 10 to 12 people, as many as we could hold, drop them off and
then return for more.”
Most of the hurricane survivors are flown to collection points
on safe ground. In Jefferson Parrish, the helicopter teams drop off
the rescued on some high ground in a highway cloverleaf. There, the
people receive medical attention, food and water, and
transportation out of the city.
“It’s unimaginable unless you’re here to see
it,” said the pararescueman. “No amount of words can
describe how overwhelming the devastation is.”
In the daylight, survivors hoisted aboard get their first look
around their city from the helicopter.
“They would see how the bad the devastation was and how it
goes on for miles and miles." Sergeant Bisogno said. "They would
start crying. Crying because of their city, their homes, family,
friends were lost. Crying because of what they went through. Crying
to be glad they were alive.”
Picking up civilians requires the pararescuemen to take more
time, be more reassuring than is normal when recovering downed
pilots. Military pilots and aircrew are trained to ride a hoist.
Pararescuemen give them the horse collar and they can put it on.
They know about helicopter rotor wash, said the sergeant who is a
combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“With these folks, we talk to them and hook them
up,” he said. “They’re scared and can’t
hear so we put their hands where we want them to hang
To get to the people in their flooded houses is not easy.
Sergeant Bisogno has chopped his way through several roofs. The
pararescue jumpers have tools as primitive as axes and as
sophisticated as battery-powered saws-alls and circular saws.
Because the bottom floors are full of water, and most homes
don’t have outside stairwells, the PJs go through the roofs
to get inside and get the people out.
“The people we picked up off the roofs had been up there
for 2-4, even 5 days, surrounded by water," said the sergeant.
"They had it rough and were very grateful. They’d say,
‘God bless you’ and want to touch you and shake your
hand.” [ANN Salutes Lt Col Bob Thompson, Air Force Reserve
Command Public Affairs]