An Air Force veteran is asking the Internet's help to reconnect him with a girl he rescued 10 years ago during Hurricane Katrina.
The hashtag #FindKatrinaGirl has now taken off on social media.
A 2005 photograph of the two shows the girl in pigtails and a pink shirt squeezing Michael Maroney, now a master sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The iconic New Orleans image has served as a symbol of hope after the devastation.
"When she wrapped me up with that hug, I just melted, and the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders," Maroney, 40, told ABC News today. "Everything in the world just stopped, and I wasn’t in New Orleans or in the devastation, I was just being hugged by a beautiful little girl."
Maroney was part of a rescue team that saved the girl and her family stranded on a flooded street of their community, he said.
"They were in knee-high water waving at our helicopter, so I went down to help them," Maroney said. "They told me their house was in ruins, and they wanted to get out."
When he hoisted the girl up, she was all smiles, Maroney said, adding she was so enthusiastic in the helicopter, soothing her mom’s fear of heights and pointing out every single place she knew from above.
"I’ve seen a lot of destruction in my time, and New Orleans was intense, but for this girl to be happy, smiling and resilient despite the devastation was such a powerful moment,” he said. "To be that strong, man, I swear that girl could rule the world."
After dropping the girl and her family off at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Maroney had to quickly get back to the helicopter to rescue more victims stranded by the hurricane, so he never got a chance to get the girl’s name, he said.
"I’ve thought about her and her family every day,” he said, adding he started looking for her five years ago. "I just want to let her know how much she's inspired me and to see how she’s doing."