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Hurricane Katrina will likely be recorded as the worst natural disaster in the history of
the United States, producing catastrophic damage and at least 1,836 casualties in
the New Orleans area, along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in south Florida.
Of the 60,000 people stranded in New Orleans, the US Coast Guard rescued over 33,500. Congress recognized the Coast Guard's response with an official entry in the Congressional Record and the Armed Service was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Hour by hour, pilots held their HH-65 Dolphins or HH-60 Jayhawk helicopters in rock-steady hovers as their crewmen lowered rescue baskets and raised up desperate survivors one by one. Hour by hour they worked, pausing only to refuel — their crews at times needing to be all but ordered to sleep and comply with the crew duty limitations.
The Coast Guard raced tirelessly to save as many as possible, maintaining its superlative safety procedures to make sure the crews and rescuees made it back every time. Several days into the disaster, National Guard helicopter crews joined the desperate effort, using less well-equipped UH-1 Hueys hugging one or two survivors up time after time.
The United States Northern Command established Joint Task Force (JTF) Katrina based out of Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to act as the military's on-scene command on Sunday, August 28. Approximately 58,000 National Guard personnel were activated to deal with the storm's aftermath, with troops coming from all 50 states.
Military helicopters continued airlifts throughout the days, ferrying in supplies and taking many people out of New Orleans to the Louis Armstrong International Airport in nearby Kenner. By September 3, according official reports the facility so far has processed 40,000 people, with priority given to the sick and injured, Below is a summary of the helicopter units deployed:
US Naval Aviation, US Coast Guard, DoD :
NAS Pensacola, Fla., was the base for over 30 Navy and Marine aircraft involved in the operation.
Assault carrier USS Bataan (LHD 5) was already operating in the region as the storm approached. She steamed westward to embark four MH-53s from HM-15 based at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, which joined two MH-60s from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28 already on board. Late in the afternoon of 30 August these helos began search and rescue operations in the vicinity of New Orleans.
The Navy soon sent assets from the Norfolk, Va., area, including three amphibious ships: USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), USS Shreveport (LPD 12), and USS Tortuga (LSD 46). On 4 September, Iwo Jima moored pierside in downtown New Orleans and became a hub for military and civilian helicopter activity in the heart of the city. The amphib became the HQ for Joint Task Force Katrina led by Army Lt. Gen Russell Honore. Aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) also deployed to the area along with USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) on September 1st. Truman embarked elements of 13 Navy helicopter squadrons and by deploying close to the disaster area, shortened the mission time for operations that had previously been flown from Pensacola. The carrier also provided support to NAS JRB New Orleans in the form of aviation boatswain's mates and cooks to keep that vital station in operation.
U.S. Army Ft. Polk Lousiana units were the first active duty Army units to conduct missions of New Orleans after Katrina hit.
U.S. Air Ambulance Detachment ( USAAAD) ( UH-1V Hueys )US Army Reserve's B Co., 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment from Fort Eustis, Va. ( Their CH-47 Chinooks dropped more than a million pounds of the sandbags to help repair damaged levees around New Orleans. )
US National Guard's 1st Battalion 131 th Aviation Regiment from Birmingham, Al ( UH-60A Black Hawks )
US National Guard's 148th Medical Co (Air Ambulance) from Winder, Ga ( UH-1V Hueys )
US National Guard's 149th Air Ambulance from Martindale Army Air Field, Tx ( UH-60A Black Hawks )
US Army's 282nd Aviation Battalion, Fort Bragg, NC ( UH-60L Blackhawks )
US Air Force's 347th Expeditionary Rescue Group from Moody, Ga ( More than 20 HH-60G Pave Hawks operating from Allen C. Thompson Air National Guard Base in Jackson, Miss )
USAF 620th Air Expeditionary Squadron:
This is the first time the command has assigned helicopters outside its normal area of operations.
The helicopters assigned to 20th Air Force are primarily dedicated to providing security ‘top cover’ for America’s ICBM force. However, because of their inherent capabilities, such as forward-looking infrared system, they are also ideally suited for search-and-rescue missions.
Bell Helicopter Textron : In coordination with FEMA, they dispatched six helicopters to the Gulf area. They were one Bell 430, one Bell 206L4, and four Bell 407s including one NVG (night vision goggles) equipped on station in Lafayette, LA. flying medical aid missions. In all sixteen pilots and customer service representatives from Bell joined forces with federal and local agencies.
International helicopters Response :
Canada: On September 2 the Government of Canada announced it was sending three warships, along with a Coast Guard vessel, with three CH-124 Sea King to the area. Over 1,000 personnel are involved in the operation, including engineers and navy divers.
Netherlands: The Koninklijke Marine (Royal Netherlands Navy ) 's frigate Hr.Ms. Van Amstel arrived from the Netherlands Antilles with her Westland Lynx attachment onboard.
Republic of Singapore Air Force: Three Singaporean CH-47 Chinooks and 38 RSAF personnel from a training detachment based in Grand Prairie, Texas assisted in relief operations from 1 September. They had so far ferried about 700 evacuees and hauled tons of supplies in 39 sorties on 4 September.
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