Army National Guard CH-47F Chinook. (Photo by Dan Parsons)
OVER EASTERN, N.C. — Before lifting off from Raleigh, N.C., pilot Peter Doerr, a chief warrant officer with the Maryland Army National Guard explains the day’s humanitarian relief mission and the CH-47F Chinook helicopter that would carry his crew half the state away to areas flooded by Hurricane Florence.
Though they are obvious, he points out the exits to the crew of three, his co-pilot and the editor of Rotor & Wing International. He explains the areas outside the aircraft where people should not walk because while spinning, the rotor blades clear the ground only about four feet.
“You don’t want to lose your head,” he tells me. To the crew: “There are wires everywhere and he are going to treat it like that” and so on until he has exhausted the pre-flight checklist, takes his place in the right pilot seat, buckles in and starts the engines.
Less than half an hour later, we are airborne and climbing to 1,000 feet cruising altitude with water and food for flood victims and room to haul 50 or more people to safety.
Army National Guard CH-47 interior. (Photo by Dan Parsons)
Our mission on Sept. 19 was wide-area search and rescue and to deliver a palette of water and one of food to a high-school football field near Lumberton, N.C. During a 2.5-hour flight, we would spend about 1.5 hours performing general search over flooded towns and farm fields, Doerr said.
“We’ll be doing wide-area search both looking for folks that need rescuing and to direct boat crews on the ground to people they can help,” Doerr said. “I can’t give enough props to the boat crews, but we focus mainly on the areas that are not so accessible, where it would take hours for the boats to get into.”
On the flight line outside the Guard hangar near Raleigh-Durham International Airport are several Airbus UH-72 Lakota light utility aircraft, another Chinook and a dozen or so UH-60 Black Hawks that are the most common utility aircraft flying in Florence’s wake.
Army National Guard UH-72 Lakota. (Photo by Dan Parsons)
This particular CH-47F recently returned from Afghanistan and is about 20 hours short of a major maintenance overhaul. It will enter depot maintenance after the National Guard’s hurricane response has ended.
On Sept. 18 alone, crews and aircraft from the Air and Army National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol flew 98 missions and performed 120 rescues during which 225 passengers and five animals were plucked from the path of rising floodwaters.
During a total 374 flight hours that day, at least 61,200 pounds of cargo — mainly food and bottled water — from around the state into affected areas without power and where overflowing hog lagoons, fuel from submerged vehicles and other pollutants have entered the water.
The U.S. Coast Guard on Sept. 18 logged 200 hours of flight time during 47 missions and 76 rescues in MH-60T aircraft flying from Elizabeth City and elsewhere. The Army National Guard flew 27 missions Sept. 18 for a total 113 flight hours but were able to transport 155 passengers.
Our objective was to overfly areas around Kinston where the Neuse River has overflowed its banks, said Chief Warrant Officer-2 Garrett Tewey, our left-seat pilot. We would then drop the food where emergency management officials on the ground direct us before flying to Wilmington where the Cape Fear River is living up to its name by causing some of the worst flooding, Tewey said.
No one needed rescue by helicopter during the flight, though the emergency supplies were dropped in Lumberton, where dozens of people gathered at the perimeter fence to take pictures of the huge helicopter.
Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook in Raleigh. (Photo by Dan Parsons)
One the way back to Raleigh, flying over chicken and hog farms flooded to the rooves, a call came in that someone was stuck in an attic and needed help. National Guard Sgt. Adam Alls was ordered to break out the night-vision goggles and hand them up to the pilots. As soon as they could take on fuel and drop off their “non-essential personnel” back in Raleigh, they would head back to the flood zone.
With rotors spinning, the Chinook delivered me and a Guard public information officer back to Raleigh. Before we made it to the hangar a couple hundred yards away, the helicopter lifted off and headed southeast, where someone was awaiting rescue.