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Katrina's Aftermath

Navy Pilots Are 'Counseled' After Unauthorized Rescues

During supply mission, they helicoptered 110 survivors to safety.

September 08, 2005|From Associated Press

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Two Navy helicopter pilots were "counseled" about the importance of supply missions after they rescued 110 New Orleans hurricane victims before returning to base from a cargo delivery, the military said Wednesday.

One pilot 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."

The pilots, Lt. Matt Udkow and Lt. David Shand, met with Cmdr. Michael Holdener, who praised their Aug. 30 actions but reminded them their orders had been to return to Pensacola after flying water and other supplies to three destinations in Mississippi -- the Stennis Space Center, Pascagoula and Gulfport.

"The Hollywood role of this thing is search and rescue," Nichols said. "Logistics was just as important. They realize that."

Nichols said no supplies went undelivered as a result of the rescues.

On Aug. 30, the day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the two air crews picked up a Coast Guard radio call for helicopters to assist rescues in New Orleans, said Lt. Jim Hoeft, another Navy spokesman. Out of Pensacola radio range, they decided to join the rescue effort without permission.

It took only minutes for the H-3 helicopters to get to New Orleans, where Udkow's crew plucked people off rooftops. Shand landed on the roof of an apartment building where more than a dozen people were 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.

As required by flight rules, both helicopters returned by dark to Pensacola, about 200 miles east of New Orleans.

The pilots and Holdener were not available for interviews Wednesday, Nichols said. He said Udkow was flying and Shand was resting between missions.

Nichols said Udkow was in no way being punished when he was 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."

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