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Oct 28
NC Guard puts Eyes in the Sky to spot Matthew victims

MORRISVILLE, N.C. – North Carolina National Guard pilots, with Detachment 1, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment, fly over flooded areas during the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew to aide in the rescue of victims in the eastern part of the state, Oct. 10-14, 2016.

The pilot’s partner with local volunteer fire fighters, who are members of the North Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (NCHART), to assess flooded areas in Lakota LUH-72 helicopters armed with state of the art camera equipment to spot victims. 

The crews locate victims who are stranded, hoists them up in the helicopter or send stress calls to other appropriate rescue personnel to retrieve them.

“We are the eyes in the sky,” said CW2 CharlesThompson, a pilot with the unit. “We are the observing aircraft, orchestrating the whole thing and telling them where the survivors are.”

The team trains monthly to prepare for various emergency situations. They have to be hoist certified and they practice with a dummy of human weight in different scenarios. 
The training helped prepare them for this mission as they rescue people from homes, hospitals and cars.

“On Wednesday we got a call that the hospital in Lumberton lost power and the generator caught on fire,” said Thompson. “There were people on life support that needed to be evacuated immediately.”

After making sure the patients were transported, the team spotted a preschool with about 15 to 20 people waving them down. A crewmember was hoisted down and he found out there were actually about 150 people in the building including infants and toddlers.

“We lowered one of the HART crew members down to tell them that we saw them, we understand and help was on the way,” said Thompson. “They were waiting out there frantically and there was no other way to get word to them.”

A boat crew was sent back for the group at the school. The HART members assessed the area from the air. Hoisted people out from some areas and sent in boat teams to get large groups to safety.

“There were a lot of boat teams and they were on point,” said Thompson.

The crew also looked for hazardous waste factors, such as runoff from hog farms, livestock or other things that could contaminate the water. 

Federal Aviation put up a temporary flight restriction to keep commercial and news aircraft at a higher altitude so it was safe for the helicopters to rescue residents. Residents were rescued in Lumberton, Kinston, Selma and the Mount Olive areas.

Some people were trapped in a house in Lumberton; they used the wheelchair ramp as a safe haven until rescued as the water was still rising. 

“One of our guys marked the water level on the house when he arrived and an hour later it had already rose six inches,” said Thompson.

Although the day shift was not called out on the fifth day of the aftermath, the radio feed put the night shift on alert for possible situations that could arise.

“We could do something tonight, we received reports of individual vehicles in the water and they are launching boat crews throughout the state and sending an aircraft with them,” said Matthew Mauzy, the NCHART South Orange Rescue Chief. “That could be what we do tonight, we’ll see.”

The night crew pilots wore night vision goggles to help with limited visibility. As Mauzy assessed the full blow of Hurricane Matthew on the area, he realized that people could compare it to Hurricane Floyd of 1999. Floyd is one of the reasons why the NCHART program was developed.

“A bunch of [the residents] lived through Floyd and this has definitely been compared to Floyd,” said Mauzy. “It was worst in some places but it’s a significant amount of water, there’s no doubt about that.” 

“Some have had all of their belongings destroyed in the flood so most of them are just glad for any assistance to get out of immediate danger,” Mauzy continued. “I think a lot of them are probably still in shock.”


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