Thursday, August 23, 2007

'Live Trucks in the Sky'

A dip of the lens to TV Technology correspondent Ian MacSpadden for helping me better understand last month's deadly news chopper crash. A ten year veteran of the Phoenix news market, MacSpadden knew two of the four men killed in the collision. But he doesn't let his grief stop him from providing lucid details about the current state of helicopter newsgathering. Reading his article, I'm reminded how glad I am not to have to board these overtasked birds on a regular basis. I'm all for joy-riding, but the lust for live coverage, a crowded airspace quantum-leaps in technology has heightened the inherent peril of flight to ludicrous levels. It started out innocently enough...
For years the station helicopter was primarily used for newsgathering at remote or distant sites. But a definite turning point, at least in the Phoenix market, came in 1996 when a 12-year-old autistic boy and his older brother who tried to stop him climbed to the top of a 125-foot high voltage tower near their home in Mesa, Arizona.
MacSpadden goes on to tell how powerful close-ups of the terrified youths atop that tower amped-up the expectations of those flittering eyes in the skies. Before long, every station in the market flew choppers with gyro-stabilized nose-mounted cameras. Helicopters became hovering voyuers. Pilots became personalities. When one stops to consider the extrapolated risks of such in-flight policies, it's easy to wonder why a tragedy such as the one in Arizona didn't happen sooner. Credit the skills of individual pilots for keeping everything aloft for so long. But a good track record is of little solace to the families of Scott Bowerbank, Jim Cox, Rick Krolak and Craig Smith. These men knew the risks, elected to fly anyway and died accordingly. There is absolutely no shame in that. But neither is there any in choosing to stay grounded, should your gut tell you so. No TV news story is worth your life, especially a few fleeting shots of some jack-ass on his way to jail...

Stand your ground. Go home tonight. It's only television.

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