Phoenix Arizona, July 27th 2007 – Four People were killed when two NEWS helicopters collided and fell to the ground while filming a live broadcast of a car chase that was unfolding on the ground below. A pilot and camera man on each chopper was killed, nobody on the ground was hurt.
The Police Chief suggested that the individual involved in the car chase might be held responsible for the deaths.
“I believe you will want to talk to investigators, but I think he will be held responsible for any of the deaths from this tragedy,” Harris told reporters at the scene. He did not elaborate.
If a straw poll on MSN is any guide the people of America feel roughly the same way about that as I do, “That’s Nuts”. 61% at the time of writing believe the suspect being chased should not be held responsible for the deaths.
Of course some will point out that if the individual had not broken the law and led the police on a chase then the choppers would not have been in a position to crash into each other, but that hardly suggests responsibility. Would Paris Hilton be responsible if two choppers collided while covering her release from Prison?
The reason why these choppers collided is that the people flying them had to fly close together to get the best shot, and had to talk to provide commentary to viewers watching the live feed, had to watch a monitors in the cockpits so they could see what the viewer could see, and oh yeah, had to fly the choppers watching instruments and keeping an eye out for other aircraft.
It’s a recipe for disaster and it’s amazing that it doesn’t happen more often. The first thing that surprised me was that the Pilot is also the reporter. Would it not make sense to have a pilot who was dedicated to flying the plane, perhaps leaving the reporting to the camera man who’s job is to watch the action? Or how about adding a third person to the team who can provide the commentary? Or how about they just beam the pictures back to the studio and let someone there be the journalist?
Flying a helicopter is not easy, it’s much much harder than driving a car for example. Would we tolerate journalists following a car chase at 100mph in a car while watching a monitor on the passenger seat and providing a running commentary? No we would not, yet we allow TV stations to put the lives of innocent bystanders at risk so that they can get a shot of yet another car chase, or worse a shot of this celebrity or that celebrity driving to or from court after yet another DUI conviction.
The truth is this isn’t NEWS, it’s entertainment, and it’s time we started recognising that. There is no justification for putting the lives of people on the ground at risk for the sake of Thrill TV dressed up as reporting. There is no justification for one distracted pilot much less the 2, 5 or 10 choppers that hover and dick and weave above whatever nonsense they have decided is newsworthy.
The TV stations that will try to blame the guy being chased. They’ll praise the skills of the pilots involved, they’ll provide endless coverage of the funerals (probably including shots from the air). They’ll describe the men involved as heroes who died bringing us the NEWS.
I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, especially those who’ve died so recently, but this accident was caused by Pilot or Pilot(s) error. It was caused by pilots being allowed to do things that no pilot should be allowed to do. If this accident involved regular pilots and it turned out that they had been messing with Video Camera’s and monitors when they crashed, the same TV stations would be hounding the authorities and asking why there aren’t tougher restrictions on pilot behaviour.
They guy being chased may be a criminal, but the blood in this particular case is on the hands of NEWS organisations who want the thrills regardless of the risk to their staff or the general public.