UPDATED 2012 SEP 09 WITH VIDEOS OF THE FLOODING! SEE BELOW.
2012 August 30 Thursday
Lakefront Airport, New Orleans, LA
It was fun to watch Hurricane Isaac arrive. After all, we had been assured that all drains were open, the maximum expected surge was 5 ft -- and hey, Katrina had been 25 ft, and this hangar and building were as stout as anything ever built here. Well, this was all true. Problem is, it was irrelevant. The drains backed up. I have no idea what the final surge was. The hangar and building did not fall down. But they sure filled up.
I'm very glad we hunkered down and stayed here at Flightline First. I wasn't about to leave our trusty On Wings Of Care plane ("Bessie") alone in a storm any more than I'd leave my pets or family. But I should have made sure they all left, and then if I wanted to stay here, I should have stayed by myself. Nobody living is in any danger here; we have modest power thanks to a generator, we have a supply of fresh bottled water, and some great pecans left from picking trees at a friend's place in Mississippi a while back. Even the dogs finally agreed to urinate in a tub in the bathroom (they are great dogs!). But Bessie, our trusty airplane. Ohhhhh Bessie dear, I am so sorry.
Yesterday morning, Wednesday August 29, water began spraying into the hangar through the huge east-facing door. Well okay, that happens in any hard rain storm. The floor gets a little slick, and a few puddles form here and there. But by this time, all my hunches were screaming "Why didn't you listen to me yesterday?!!!" So at 5am yesterday, the two of us began moving airplanes about the hangar, to get them out of the low spots and herd as many as we could to higher ground toward the back. It's hard enough on dry ground in open space for just two people to move an airplane around, but on slippery wet painted concrete in very crowded space, with one of us weighing less than 5% of what even the smallest airplane there weighs, it was arduous. Where we could, we used the electric tug. (Today, that tug is four feet under water.) But when it got really close, with wings and elevators and propellers squeezing by within inches of each other, it was up to us to push. And pull. And lean.
The three primary aircraft that we were able to move to higher ground, we moved. And we re-wrapped their landing gear (wheels in the case of Bessie, which has fixed gear, not retractable gear) with heavy-duty Hefty trash bags and duct tape. No sense in having to repack all those bearings if we didn't need to! Our mantra became "Praying to Hefty that the trash bags hold and the water don't rise!" We felt like we had it beat.
Just to be safe, since it looked like rain might be coming again, we took to the inside of the building, where the public and office areas were. Still dry but in clear danger if the hangar water level rose much higher, we moved furniture wherever we could, unplugged and lifted up all electrical equipment, and so on. Ah, so glad we were there to protect this lovely business and building. Still thanking Hefty, and our dogs still thought it was an adventure to go outside in the wind and rain to pee.
Sure enough, by 2pm, water in the hangar had reached about 6 inches and was headed into the public area. Okay, this is not fun anymore. I'm looking at Bessie and thinking, "That nose needs to go up. That exhaust pipe only has six inches below it to water. We can repack the wheel bearings if the Heftys don't hold, but let's not let any water touch the engine!" So we hoisted the nose up on some water bottle cases, removed the gust lock on the control yoke so the elevator would stick up not down, and put the tail of the airplane a mere four inches above water, so that the nose would be a nice safe foot or more above water. Whew, avoided disaster again.
Most of the other planes, except one poor low-riding old Mooney, were in pretty good shape. The twins and a few high-performance single-engine planes were either in high spots or had their engines sitting nice and high. If this was as bad as it was going to get, we had it made.
6pm Wednesday -- I'm not feeling so good about any of this. I had just moved the last of the vehicles up to the highway bridge south of the airport, and on my walk back, I walked through water that came up to my crotch. Whew, had I really forgotten the terrain between the airport and the bridge? Nope, it was flat, as I had thought. Apparently the drains had completely ceased functioning, and I was watching water levels around the entire airport rise before my eyes. I came into the FBO to find Brayton moving the last of everything he could up to counters and heavy table tops. The couches were starting to float, a round coffee table topped with magazines and fresh roses from a customer yesterday was floating in the front foyer! Okay, this is really not so much fun anymore. In fact, let's take the last of the cookies out of the kitchen and plan to remain in the upstairs office area! Dogs -- quit drinking water unless you really need it, cuz the walks have ended!
It was a long long night. Now we feared the water could rise as high as Bessie's baggage door. Hefty was moot -- the bags may have held but their tops were covered in water. Now we would have to rely on 3M's duct tape. We taped Bessie's doors closed as tightly as possible. Twice we raised Bessie's nose, til she was as nose-high as she could go. Her tail was submerged; we figured it was still better to have to re-lubricate all of those control cables than to let the engine feel salt water. And it sounded like the rain was stopping!
By this time, we had been so wet so many times, that we had begun raiding the old uniform closet on the second floor. Thanks to a former employee, we were both sporting Flightline First shirts that said "Phil" on them. And gray uniform shorts that size XL. I could have fit in one of their legs, but I had a belt, so they worked. After each wading session, we were grateful that we still had fresh water to wash off with, up in the second and third floor offices. Because that water in the hangar was gnarly, yukky stuff. Full of oil and grease from the hangar floor I guess, and generally brown and muddy and stinky. I guess we've got all of the dust and dirt and debris and small critters from the airport floating in here now, too. I rescued a spider who was floating on a styrofoam cup. He's living in our office now.
This morning around 6 am was the final disappointment -- wait, let's just say the most recent disappointment. 3M did not succeed. There is one foot of water inside Bessie, covering even the nose-high rudder pedals. Her rear baggage compartment is filled. The headsets and stuff we had put safely on the seats we have now retrieved and carried to safety. Well, we had talked about re-doing her interior when we got her a new paint job.
I am still hoping that the engine might survive. It (the engine) actually is still above the water line, by about an inch. Dare to hope? Heck yes! The sun is coming out and the winds and rain have stopped, and I'm dry and sitting here typing away on a cell phone connection. Hope springs eternal. It's my turn to go wading now, we're going to see if we can break into any of the other planes (at owners' requests) and save some headsets and GPS units. Stay tuned!
UPDATED 2012 SEP 09 -- HERE ARE VIDEOS OF THE FLOODING!
Sorry it took us so long to get them up... we've been frantically trying to save Bessie! Tomorrow we're going to buy her back from the salvage company, and then we're going to work day and night to rebuild her if we can. Stay tuned!
Here are other photos of Bessie and a few planes and the airport. We have detailed photos for the other plane owners, some of whom seem not too unhappy in view of their insurance. Photos start with yesterday morning, when things still looked tractable. Then a few from windows looking out at the airport; these may not look so bad to those unfamiliar with the local terrain, but the runways are under at least 3 feet of water. The last photos are from today, where you'll see Bessie floating in the Flightline First hangar. *SIGH*