Man Takes Up His Own Helicopter Rescue Effort Melissa Block talks to Vernon Rich, a self-employed aviator and mechanic who was born in Louisiana, but now lives in Phoenix. Rich and two pilots took his own helicopter to help with relief efforts in the New Orleans area.

Man Takes Up His Own Helicopter Rescue Effort

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This hurricane has produced lots of examples of heroism, good deeds, people going above and beyond to help those in need. Here's a story about a couple of helicopter pilots and an aviation mechanic who decided to fly their own Huey helicopter into New Orleans from Phoenix last Wednesday. It's an 18-hour flight. The mechanic, Vernon Rich(ph), told us today they spent several days in New Orleans on search-and-rescue operations, and he described one other mission. A large number of dogs and cats needed food. Their owners had been evacuated from the Lindy Boggs Medical Center. The pets had to stay behind, so the helicopter made one more run.

Mr. VERNON RICH (Aviation Mechanic): We went to Wal-Mart and bought 1,900 pounds of dog food, cat food and kitty litter and headed back into town. We got to the location where the hospital was and flew onto the roof of the hospital and started unloading all this dog and cat food. And this--there was just one or two people left in the hospital that were trying to take care of the animals. And he come running out and was stunned to see all this food pouring out of the helicopter. He came back out after a couple of trips when he saw how much it was, and he had a little piece of paper and scrawled on that piece of paper. It said, `Who can I thank?' So I asked him how many animals he had there, and he had 46 dogs and 14 cats.

BLOCK: You mentioned earlier the rescue of people who were trapped. What kind of equipment did you have on your helicopter to let you help try to get folks out of their houses?

Mr. RICH: Two really good pilots. The first people we brought out was a 98-year-old woman; her son, who's about 75; and their grandson--he's about 55. She was in a bad way. But the roof was real steep. So they just put the skid of the helicopter on top of the roof, and I hopped out and went in. And we couldn't get them off the roof--the woman and her son out. So we got the son and took off and landed on a bridge that wasn't very far away. And a Sikorsky 58 came in, which is a big heavy-lift helicopter, that had a winch on it. And we talked to those guys and told them what we needed to do.

The woman didn't want to leave, and they took off and came back to the bridge and landed. So the son asked us if one of us would go back with him and help talk his family into coming out. So I went back with him, and they took us in in the 58, set us up on the roof. And I went in with a harness and told the lady it was time to leave. So we hooked her up on the harness and lifted her out of there with a 58, set her down on the bridge. And then we wrapped her up in a blanket, put her in the back of the Huey and headed to the hospital.

BLOCK: Mr. Rich, how high off the ground were you flying?

Mr. RICH: How high?

BLOCK: Yeah, I'm curious how close down you fly.

Mr. RICH: You mean how low.

BLOCK: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RICH: Not very high--low, very low, you know, just barely on top of, you know, trees or telephone poles or what are left. You just have to be right down on the deck so that you can find somebody.

BLOCK: I would imagine flying that low down that you would have seen all sorts of unpleasant sights that would be hard to shake from your memory.

Mr. RICH: Yes.

BLOCK: How are you dealing with that?

Mr. RICH: Well, when something like that happens, it's already done. There's nothing you can do about it. You just have to look forward and say, `I'm here to help. Who can be helped?' It's bad when you see someone that's perished, but you know you can't do anything for them. But when you look up and look further down the street or on another building, you see somebody waving a towel or something and you go get them, that's progress.

BLOCK: That's where you can do some good.

Mr. RICH: That's right. That's why we went.

BLOCK: Mr. Rich, appreciate your talking with us. Thanks so much.


BLOCK: Vernon Rich back home in Phoenix. He and two friends who are helicopter pilots flew their own Huey to New Orleans to help last week.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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