Associated Press | September 08, 2005
PENSACOLA, Fla. - Two Navy helicopter pilots were reminded of the importance of supply missions after delivering their cargo and then rescuing 110 hurricane victims in New Orleans instead of immediately returning to base, the military said Wednesday.
One of the pilots was temporarily assigned to a kennel but that was not punishment, said Patrick Nichols, a civilian public affairs officer at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
"They were not reprimanded," Nichols said. "They were counseled."
Lt. Matt Udkow and Lt. David Shand returned to the base from their mission on Aug. 30, a day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Nichols said.
Udkow and Shand met with Cmdr. Michael Holdener, who praised their actions but reminded them their orders were to fly water and other supplies to three destinations in Mississippi - the Stennis Space Center, Pascagoula and Gulfport - and then return to Pensacola.
"The Hollywood role of this thing is search and rescue," Nichols said. "Logistics was just as important. They realize that."
The two air crews picked up a Coast Guard radio call that helicopters were needed for rescues in New Orleans, said Lt. Jim Hoeft, another Navy spokesman. They were out of radio range to Pensacola, so they decided to fly their helicopters to New Orleans and join the rescue effort without permission.
It took only minutes for the H-3 helicopters to fly to New Orleans, where Udkow's crew plucked people off rooftops. Shand landed his helicopter on the roof of an apartment building where more than a dozen people had been stranded. When he returned to get more, two crew members entered the building and found two blind residents and led them to the helicopter.
Udkow later received permission to continue with the rescue missions when he landed to refuel in New Orleans.
Both helicopters returned to Pensacola, about 200 miles east of New Orleans, by dark, as required by flight rules. Nichols said no supplies went undelivered as a result of the rescues.
The pilots and Holdener were not available for interviews Wednesday, Nichols said. He said Udkow was flying and Shand was resting between missions.
"We all want to be the guys who rescue people," Holdener told The New York Times. "But they were told we have other missions we have to do right now and that is not the priority."
The air over New Orleans was so thick with helicopters a few days later that crews were having a hard time finding people who needed rescuing, but that was not the case when Udkow and Shand flew their rescue missions.
"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," Udkow told the Times. "It wasn't easy."
Nichols said Udkow was in no way being punished by being put in charge of a temporary kennel in Pensacola for pets of military personnel who had been evacuated from hurricane-stricken areas.
"It's a collateral duty," Nichols said. "These guys don't just fly. They do other stuff."