Sunday, January 6, 2013

Marine Sea Knight pilot risked all to stop carnage

40 years after sniper Mark Essex, Marine pilot is proud he helped stop the carnage
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
The Times-Picayune
January 05, 2013

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Charles H. "Chuck" Pitman, the branch's former Deputy Chief of Staff for Aviation, was at Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola, Fla., on January 2, 2013. Forty years ago, on Jan. 7, 1973, Pitman volunteered to pilot a Sea Knight helicopter and helped police stop Mark Essex, the Howard Johnson's sniper in New Orleans, risking his life and his career.
(Photo by Michael Spooneybarger, | The Times-Picayune contributor)
Like most other residents of New Orleans, Marine helicopter pilot Charles H. "Chuck" Pitman watched the television in horror on Jan. 7, 1973, as authorities tried to stop a sniper or snipers who had invaded the Downtown Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge that morning and fatally shot seven people, including three police officers. Shots rang out from various spots in the 17-story hotel, making police think there was more than one gunman, but the cops eventually contained the killer or killers to the roof.

Though cornered, whoever was on the hotel roof was out of the NOPD's reach. Disturbed, Pitman -- at the time a 37-year-old lieutenant colonel in charge of a Marine air unit stationed in Belle Chasse -- thought, "We've got to do something. Those people need help out there."

So Pitman did do something. He flew a Marine helicopter to the hotel on Loyola Avenue and helped police officers, some of them on board the chopper, kill 23-year-old Mark Essex, who investigators determined was the sole sniper. In doing so, however, Pitman placed his career with the Marines in jeopardy.

Four decades later, many New Orleanians are still thankful for Pitman's actions on the day Essex terrorized the city. "Without that helicopter and without his piloting, it would've been a lot worse," Moon Landrieu, New Orleans' mayor at the time, said recently. "The city owes him a debt of gratitude."
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