Savannah Coast Guard Pilots Aid Rescue Efforts in Gulf Coast

Some emergency services for the Gulf Coast have been coming from the Coastal Empire. It's a desperate situation for a lot of people, but one form of help is coming from a crew from Savannah that's literally picking those people up out of desperation and taking them to safety. WTOC went along with the crew.

Despite the fact that the Coast Guard center in Mobile, Alabama, shows its own signs of Hurricane Katrina, crews there have other things on their mind.

"We'll be hoisting somebody off the roof and look ahead about four houses and somebody else will be standing on their roof," said Lt. Steve Foran. "So we'll go pick them up and it's just been happening all day."

Lt. Foran arrived from Savannah Tuesday night to fly rescue missions with Coast Guard helicopters along the Gulf Coast. Officials at the aviation training center in Mobile say having other pilots coming in from out of town isn't just convenient; it's vital to their mission. They've had enough helicopters to get these rescues going, but not enough pilots to do it 24 hours a day until now.

"This is a historic and unprecedented operational tempo for us," said Capt. Dave Callahan. "We've performed 680 rescue hoists in the last 36 hours, and that's just the crews working out of Mobile."

Going rooftop to rooftop hasn't been easy for Savannah's rescue crew, but it's been beyond rewarding. For their very first rescue, their diver had to chop through the roof of a house with his axe to get a family to safety.

"They were just so overjoyed and thankful," PO3 Matthew Laub. "They were all...the daughter was crying the whole way back in the helicopter. It's just a good feeling."

"Today my crew alone picked up 34 people," said Lt. Foran. "We saved 34 lives."

Those rescue crews told us it's been frustrating as well not having the capacity to pick up everyone they see, and leave some of those desperate people behind.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite,