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Katrina Victims Didn't Want Rescuing

Helicopter pilot Iain McConnell, along with the rest of his air station crew, was summoned at 4 a.m. on the morning of August 30, 2005, to the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama. The Center soon became one of the first bases of operations for Hurricane Katrina relief. McConnell and his crew were told to keep five H-60 helicopters airborne on missions at all times, around the clock.

The first airborne relief teams arrived in the affected areas before any news crews, and were completely unprepared for the devastation they saw. A train track running parallel to the ocean had been pushed inland 15 feet off its gravel bed. A houseboat was floating down U.S. Highway 90. The entire city of New Orleans stood under water.

McConnell's crew got right to work, airlifting stranded people from their rooftops and out of windows, and delivering them to the Superdome helipad. To their chagrin, however, they were only able to help a relatively few amount of survivors. In an interview, McConnell shared why:

On our first three missions, we saved the lives of 89 people, three dogs, and a cat. On the fourth mission, to our great frustration, we saved no one—but not for lack of trying. The dozens we attempted to rescue refused pickup!

Some people told us to simply bring them food and water. "You are trying to live in unhealthy conditions, and the water will stay high for a long time," we warned them. Still, they refused. I felt frustrated and angry, since we had used up precious time and fuel, and had put ourselves at risk during each rescue attempt. I felt like they were ungrateful. But, in truth, they did not know how desperate their situation was.

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