Katrina from the Cockpit

By Lt. Matt Udkow, USCG

Photographer Gary Nichols took this while we were flying the H-3 to New Orleans on our second trip to the area. This was a week after Katrina hit. (Photo by Gary Nichols)

Seven years ago, on the morning of 29 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made its second of three landfalls on the Louisiana coast near the town of Buras-Triumph. The response to the subsequent flooding that resulted in New Orleans and much of the central Gulf Coast included the contributions of 293 Coast Guard, Navy, Marine Corps, and other military helicopters. These Naval Aviation assets spearheaded the search and rescue (SAR) efforts that ultimately rescued thousands of people trapped by the storm. The author, who was serving in the Navy in 2005, tells the story of one of those helicopters and its crew during the aftermath of Katrina.

I was blessed to serve as the SAR officer and pilot with the NAS Pensacola SAR Unit (renamed Helicopter Support Unit) from 2003 ?to 2005. During this period, my crew and I had the opportunity to assist with the SAR efforts in the New Orleans area following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. Out first SAR mission was on 30 August (27 persons hoisted), and the second one was conducted on 2 September 2005 (20 persons hoisted). In my opinion, these two missions were the pinnacle of my naval flight career.

Our second SAR mission on 2 September took us downtown within view of the Superdome. Helos from other Navy and Marine squadrons, including HMX-1 (not pictured), were making hoists around the city. (Photo by Gary Nichols)
My crew: (left to right): Myself (pilot), AW2 Jake Mclaughlin (rescue swimmer), AW2 Justin Crane (rescue swimmer), AW1 Kevin Maul (crew chief), Lt. Bryce Kammeyer (co-pilot). This was taken after landing after the first day, with two SAR sorties complete and 27 survivors hoisted. All of our crew and the civilian maintainers were very excited and proud of the work we had done.
Twenty survivors were happy to be off the flooded ground. The seated man on the right wearing a white t-shirt had a heart-attack on the way to Louis Armstrong Airport. I informed the tower, and we received permission to land in front of a huge line of helos and fly right over the terminal to drop him off first to waiting paramedics. AO3 Danny Smith, the crewman at the door, did a great job hoisting and managing the passengers, plus the three crew members and one photographer in the back. (Photo by Gary Nichols)
This photo was taken during the second SAR sortie of 30 August, while we were hovering over the upper 9th Ward neighborhood of Desire, looking east toward the Industrial Canal. Louisa Street is the wide space running left to right in the foreground. We had received fuel (and permission from our OPS via satellite phone) to fly until sunset from NAS New Orleans. I have moved to the left seat so the other pilot could do some hoisting. We hoisted 10 persons on this and 17 on the first hop. The rescue swimmer had to use an axe to cut into one of those houses to get to the folks inside.