Savannah Coast Guard Pilots Recount Desperate Rescues in Gulf Coast - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

09/02/05

Savannah Coast Guard Pilots Recount Desperate Rescues in Gulf Coast

Violence and lawlessness in the wake of Hurricane Katrina isn't contained to New Orleans. We spent several days with area Coast Guard helicopter pilots, and there's trouble all along the Gulf Coast.

Hundreds of missions have already gone out of Mobile, Alabama, this week, and each one is just as shocking as the others.

"We're always prepared, we train, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw," said PO3 Matthew Laub. "It's devastation out there."

Laub is part of a Savannah-based rescue crew flying out of Mobile for the Coast Guard. 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 rescue missions going, but not enough pilots to do it 24 hours a day until now.

The problem is all those missions still can't pick up every person in desperate need of help.

"It is frustrating because we have an aircraft that maybe we can pick up three or four, maybe five people, but in the housing projects in New Orleans, there's 20 to 30 people standing on a balcony waving at us, but we just can't," said Lt. Steve Foran.

And that means panic levels are rising. Thursday morning, someone fired a shot at a helicopter near the Superdome. Foran and Laub had already seen desperate measures the day before.

"We would land and people would literally come up to our rescue diver we left on scene and threaten him and say, 'Me and my friends are getting out of here, we're getting evacuated,'" Lt. Foran told us.

"We get swarmed by people and can't help it," said Laub.

But these rescuers will continue to help, trying to save as many lives as they can.

This is a very personal mission for Lt. Foran. He was stationed in New Orleans for several years before being transferred to Savannah. Yesterday alone he picked up 47 people in just over eight hours, bringing his total to 81 people.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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