Thursday, January 05, 2006

They Shoot Helicopters, Don’t They? (Part 2)

Following is part 2 of a December 2005 article in the online magazine "Reason."

They Shoot Helicopters, Don’t They?

The Air Force, to which the Air National Guard reports, also has zero record of helicopter sniping. “We investigated one incident and it turned out to have been shooting on the ground, not at the helicopter,” Air Force Maj. Mike Young told The New York Times on September 29.

Aside from the local National Guard, the other government agency with scores of helicopters over New Orleans was the U.S. Coast Guard, which rescued more than 33,000 people. “Coast Guard helicopters,” says spokeswoman Jolie Shifflet, “were not fired on during Hurricane Katrina rescue operations.”

How about the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), the all-volunteer, Air Force–assisting network of around 58,000 private Cessna pilots, 68 of whom flew a total of 833 aid missions after the hurricane? “To my knowledge,” says CAP Public Affairs Manager Jim Tynan, “none of our pilots on any Katrina-related mission were taking ground fire.”
That doesn’t mean that people weren’t shooting at helicopters. As Lt. Comdr. Tim Tobiasz, the Coast Guard’s operations officer for New Orleans airspace, told me, “It’s tough to hear in a helicopter. You have two turbine engines.…I don’t know if you could hear a gunshot below.” And the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms arrested a 21-year-old man in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans on September 6 for firing a handgun out his window while helicopters flew nearby.

But the basic premise of the article that introduced the New Orleans helicopter sniper to a global audience was dead wrong, just like so many other widely disseminated Katrina nightmares. No 7-year-old rape victim with a slit throat was ever found, even though the atrocity was reported in scores of newspapers. The Convention Center freezer was not stacked with 30 or 40 dead bodies, nor was the Superdome a live-in morgue. (An estimated 10 people died inside the two buildings combined, and only one was slain, according to the best data from National Guard officials at press time.)

Tales of rapes, carjackings, and gang violence by Katrina refugees quickly circulated in such evacuee centers as Baton Rouge, Houston, and Leesville, Louisiana—and were almost as quickly debunked.

More, next time...


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