Of the hundreds of lives he moved from danger to safety in New Orleans' disaster area, Winnebago County board member-rescue pilot Randy Olson says one particular group sticks out.
"I looked back in the back, and there was a small Chinese family, and they actually clapped going back to the New Orleans airport, so that was really touching," Olson said.
Olson and three other area men were contacted Tuesday to head to New Orleans for disaster relief. They transported food, medical supplies and affected residents out of harm's way in this helicopter, a transport Olson admits could sometimes shift from rewarding to alarming.
"There'll all running towards your helicopter with blades spinning and everything else trying to get on and at one point on of our TFOs almost had to pull out his gun and say stop. These people just want to be rescued," Olson said.
Crew member Rick Concepcion spent hours upside down on a harness doing roof rescues. He says while looting and chaos was abound in New Orleans, calm and a sense of peace was restored each time a family was safely picked up.
"We all took a lot of time to reflect, have a private moment. We all shed a lot of tears of sorrow, tears of joy to be able to help someone, and dedication," Concepcion said.
And now home on dry Rockford land, the rescue team has a new perspective on family, on friends, and the rebuilding of homes and lives.
"I felt absolutely honored to be there. I felt humbled by the entire experience to be part of the humanitarian mission like this. That's what we live and train for," Concepcion said.
It’s real life training, a life changing experience for these ordinary men who became hurricane rescue heroes.