Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)
AMT3 Talton had only arrived at Air
Station Cape Cod in early August but volunteered nonetheless for Katrina
operations. Despite seeing the reports on the news, he was not
prepared for the level of destruction he saw when he arrived in the area.
His first rescue was a litter hoist. It was the third day before he flew
Quote: "I am glad that I got a chance to be part of it, just glad I could help out."
Q: If you could just give me your rank and rate and name, and spell your last name please.
AMT3 Talton: Yes, I’m an AMT2 (E-5), Matthew Dwayne Talton; T-A-L-T-O-N.
Q: And how long have you been here at Air Station Cape Cod?
AMT3 Talton: I checked in August 1 of this year.
Q: Oh, so that didn’t give you much time to hang out before they sent you right into the field.
AMT3 Talton: No, I was only here probably about three and half weeks.
Q: Could you give me sort of a paragraph about your career so far in the Coast Guard; when did you come in and what have you been doing since you got in?
AMT3 Talton: Yes, I joined in 1997. I spent about a year an a half underway in Cordova, Alaska on a buoy tender and then put my name on the Aviation List; AM, and it took a little bit longer at that time because they combined the rates so it took a little bit longer to get in. So from there I went to Air Station Sitka in Alaska and I spent probably about a month shy of seven years there and then came here, and I’ve been here, like I said, three and half/four months.
Q: When were you told that you might be working on this Katrina recovery operation?
AMT3 Talton: Well I was at home laying in the bed with my wife and got a call from Chief Haney and asked if I would like to go down to assist in Hurricane Katrina the following day and I said, “Yes, no problem”, even though watching it on TV I didn’t have any clue what it would have been like.
Q: Have you been there before; to New Orleans?
AMT3 Talton: No, I’ve never been to the South. And when I first initially got the call and volunteered, and after when I was talking to my wife I was like, “Well I’ll probably be down there picking up trash and filling sandbags or something like that”, so I kind of went into it clueless as far as what was to come, that’s for sure.
Q: So when did you leave here? Were you part of the crew that went down to Jacksonville and then to Mobile?
AMT3 Talton: Yes, I flew down on a Falcon I believe it was the 8th or 9th – I can’t really remember – but I flew into Jacksonville because they had sent a 60 ahead previous to that, so I met up with them in Jacksonville and they decided to stick me on the 60 that went in from Jacksonville right behind the hurricane.
Q: So you were on there with I guess that was Lieutenant Mixon, was he the . . . he was the one who flew it down I guess.
AMT3 Talton: Yes, it was actually . . . he flew it down and actually it was Mr. Dorvall and Hall and I, not O’Dell.
Q: Right. So unlike . . . it basically became you guys were actually able to have people from the same unit at least initially flying on the same mission.
AMT3 Talton: Yes, and that’s kind of how I think everybody going into it, I think that was kind of the concept that we were going to be staying with our own crews but after a couple days it was just like, you know . . . .
Q: Whoever is ready.
AMT3 Talton: Yes.
Q: Can you describe that first flight; where’d you go, what’d you see?
AMT3 Talton: Yes, when we . . . so I had been flying a little bit throughout the day and we showed up into Mobile and it was dark - I can’t recall the time that we showed up but it was pitch black - and when we got to the Air Station it was kind of pandemonium. We showed up and a crew jumped on the plane and gave it a quick little turn around, fueled it and the pilots went in to get a brief of what to expect, and they came out basically in a trot and everybody was just like go, go, go, go, go. And then . . . I can’t even remember, we didn’t go into New Orleans that night but we went to Biloxi and up before New Orleans; before you get to New Orleans, and we saw the devastation and started picking people up, and it was nowhere near what New Orleans has come to be but it was still tore up and we came in behind the hurricane - and like I said, it was still pretty gusty out - and started picking up people. There was really no kind of, “Where are we going to take these people that we’re picking up”, so we started bringing them back to Mobile and I believe the next day they got a little bit more I guess prepared as far as where they were going to be taking people and stuff like that.
Q: What’s your job in those situations?
AMT3 Talton: I’m a Flight Mechanic so basically a hoist operator. And yes, my first hoist was a litter hoist and it was kind of like, you know, a little bit tiring. It’s dark and you’re in an unfamiliar area. But either way it goes you’re trained for whatever you’re doing so it didn’t really matter. But yes, the first one was a litter hoist and that kind of broke the ice a little bit.
Q: So in those situations you send the swimmer down and then bring the hoist back up and then send the litter back down?
AMT3 Talton: Well that first one is, you know you get people waving at you and so you send the swimmer down to assess what’s going on and if they’re in actual need.
Q: How do you communicate with him?
AMT3 Talton: With the swimmer?
AMT3 Talton: With a radio.
Q: Is that a VHF radio?
AMT3 Talton: Yes, he was up on 21 and he’ll call back up and tell us what the situation is. And the first one was an older gentleman . . . I guess they knew Katrina was coming so I think some nursing homes sent the people back to their families and this gentleman was stuck in a minivan and there was water around, and he wasn’t in too good of a shape. But yes, that was the first night. It was in Biloxi before we got to New Orleans.
Q: I would guess that a lot of these folks, if they’ve ever seen a helicopter before, have not been underneath one or certainly been lifted up 10 or 15 stories.
AMT3 Talton: Yes, a lot of eyes closed, head between the legs, that type stuff.
AMT Talton: Yes.
Q: Did you talk with these folks at all when you got them onboard after you had a full load and were taking them someplace or what did they . . . ?
AMT3 Talton: I didn’t even talk with anybody. I mean the times where I was at work in the back of the helicopter while we were operational it was just basically getting people in, getting them to safety and getting them to the staging area. There was no communication. It was too loud other then maybe yelling to, you know, “Move a little bit this way”. So that was about it.
Q: How many missions did you fly while you were there, do you remember?
AMT3 Talton: Roughly maybe about anywhere from six to eight because after about the third day that’s when a lot more people started showing up from around the country and everybody wanted to partake in helping. So as far as us; the Flight Mechs, they kind of put us on a rotation so everybody would get a chance to help out a little bit because everybody wanted to go out and hoist.
Q: Sure. So those first couple days did you get a chance to go into the city and what did you see when you got there?
AMT3 Talton: I went, I think it was the third day that I was there I got to go into New Orleans and after that it was . . . every time I went I was always flying at night because the way they had it set up was if . . . well I was working nights so basically when I came into work at night there was a rotation of people who were to fly so every time I saw New Orleans was at night and I didn’t really get a chance to see New Orleans in the daytime until about the fourth or fifth day and that’s when it clicked. I mean I saw how bad it was at nighttime because you’re hovering over the water, you know over the houses, but you didn’t really get a true perspective until you saw it during the daytime and saw as far as the eye could see, just water.
Q: Is it correct it to say that you had never seen that many Cost Guard helicopters in one place before?
AMT3 Talton: No [chuckle]. I got some good pictures actually down on my computer that people have sent to me. And to see that many 60s, that many 65s, you know because at the end when it started tapering off and have them all on the ramp out there at Mobile, it was a sight to see and everybody coming together, it was pretty amazing.
Q: Any unusual risks or dangers of executing rescues in an urban setting like that?
AMT3 Talton: You know everything was pretty much standard as far as how we did things other then the circumstances or the things that you actually did where you were pulling people out of attics and stuff like that. I mean it was definitely different. I mean I’ve never done that before and I’m sure probably a majority of the people in the Coast Guard have never done that before, and it was definitely . . . I mean there were a lot more things to worry about; wires, trees, getting the cable caught on stuff, because I mean you’re putting the rescue gear into places that it wasn’t meant to go. I mean for instance one of the more memorable ones that I experienced was I put the swimmer down inside of a house where there was a hole blown out of the side of this attic. So the swimmer goes in and he calls back up and says that there are approximately six or seven people in this attic. So I put the basket down. He pulls it into the hole and he gets the person loaded and I would get a little tension on the cable and I would con the aircraft, “Easy back”, and that would basically kind of drag the basket up and then that’s when I would take the load in and bring them up, and so it was different. It was way different.
Q: In other words there was a lot of communication obviously going on between the swimmer, you and the pilots.
AMT1 Talton: Oh yes.
Q: And you have that kind of basically precision control over the basket even at a hundred feet?
AMT3 Talton: Yes.
Q: Or try to.
AMT1 Talton: I mean you compensate for the situation that you’re in and like that one instance I was talking about, It was the only way of doing it because if you just pull them straight up there you’re going to damage your cable and you’re going to jeopardize being able to help more people after that.
Q: Did you have any rough idea how many hoists you did overall?
AMT3 Talton: No.
Q: It was just continuous?
AMT3 Talton: Yes, I could throw out a ballpark figure but I honestly, I truly don’t know. You’d probably have to look at the pilot sheets as far as what they counted but I honestly don’t know.
Q: If you were ever doing this in the future, any suggestions for what you’d like to see or equipment you’d like to have or how’d you like to see it done?
AMT3 Talton: You know the planes that were in the area helping everybody at the time were just like mosquitoes in the air, just constantly everywhere. But in a situation like that that’s about all you’re going to get. I think it worked out well and I have nothing negative to say about it. I think it truly went well as far as what we had to work with, so no, I don’t think I could see anything different.
Q: Anything that you would have liked to have had that you didn’t have?
AMT3 Talton: No.
Q: When you guys are flying at night are you using Night Vision or are you just using the lights from the helicopter?
AMT3 Talton: From a flight mechanic stand point No, because when you’re in the back ,your laying down searching for people waving and hoisting, they would just get tangled up in the hoist cable, your hover lights are on so there’s no need for Night Vision Goggles . . The pilots had night vision goggles up in the front watching for cables and other obsticles and stuff like that.
Q: After a couple of days when you’re flying with different crews, different rescue swimmers, I assume you probably were flying with folks you never met before.
AMT1 Talton: Oh yes.
Q: How does that work when . . . I mean presumably there’s got to be something of a bond between you and the flight swimmer and the rescue swimmer doing these hoists, whether it’s just communication or whatnot. How do you develop that when you just met somebody ten seconds earlier?
AMT3 Talton: You know I didn’t think about it. I was just there. I was doing my job and what I was trained to do but it didn’t really click in until I heard one of the Discovery guys that was there filming it mention, “You know it’s so impressive watching you guys. You guys are all mixed up and you guys can still get the job done”, and it didn’t really click until he said that and that’s what the Stand Team is for; that’s why they’re there, you know going around the country making sure everybody’s on the same sheet of music. So I mean that’s why we’re able to do I guess what we’re able to do is because they’re keeping everybody standing on the same sheet of music. So now I guess I appreciate them a little bit more.
Q: Yes. Is there anything you wanted to add that we haven’t talked about; your most memorable rescue?
AMT3 Talton: You know they’re all the same. We’re all helping these people get out of the situation that they’re in. No, I’m just glad I got to be a part of it because I know it’s a history making thing but I’m glad I was just able to help out.
Q: How long were you there?
AMT3 Talton: I was there a total of eight days. I was the first one down with the crew from here and it tapered off real slow and then we came back. Yes, so eight days.
Q: How did they get you guys back?
AMT3 Talton: We brought one of our planes back.
Q: Oh, okay, so you flew back on that?
AMT3 Talton: We flew back on the 60, yes.
Q: Yes. What’s that like flying one of those things across country?
AMT3 Talton: You know I’ve never done it before you know just a lot ,you know conversing. I mean it was about an eight hour flight.
Q: From Mobile to here?
AMT3 Talton: Yes.
Q: That’s pretty fast with all things considered.
AMT3 Talton: Yes. We landed once for gas and just kept hustling.
Q: At what altitude are you flying when you’re doing a cross-country like that?
AMT3 Talton: I think at the time we didn’t go over 2,000 feet. I think it was a little bit less then that actually.
Q: Well PO, thank you very much.
AMT2 Talton: Yes, thank you.
Q: I really appreciate it.
END OF INTERVIEW