BLOG: Helicopter tragedy hits home for journalists

By Assunta Ng

Scene of Tuesday’s helicopter crash near the Seattle Center (Photo from KOMO-TV)

The KOMO-TV helicopter crash near the Seattle Center on Tuesday, resulting in the death of the pilot and photojournalist, troubles me.
I never really liked flying in helicopters. I did it once when we flew to see Alaska’s glaciers. I didn’t even have time to realize that I was scared at the time, as hopping on the flight was a last-minute idea. Yet, whenever I thought about it, I became nervous. Never again, I told myself.

Since 2004, there were 500 deaths in 1,600 helicopter crashes, according to a recent National Transportation and Safety Board report.
Interestingly, the concept of the helicopter actually originates from China in 400 B.C.

Unsung heroes

You never know why and how you are connected in the community. But we are all interconnected. Think about the news you watch on KOMO-TV. It’s not just the faces you see on camera — it’s also the people behind the camera who help bring the stories alive. These photojournalists are unsung heroes, who spice up the reporters’ storytelling with drama, history, wits, and suspense to enhance the viewers’ imagination.

I thought I didn’t know the two victims at first. Then an email came, reminding me that at the Women of Color Empowered lunch not too long ago I met the wife of the deceased pilot, Gary Pfitzner. Though no one had ever introduced me to the other victim, Bill Strothman, I recalled seeing him when we were covering news. He was one of our respected and dedicated colleagues in the journalism business. He died on his way to an assignment. If there were any consolation, it would be that he died doing what he loved to do — pursuing his passion for journalism.

Chinese bamboo flying toy

From toy to helicopter

The helicopter is an amazing flying machine — it can land vertically. It’s said that it took more than a thousand years to evolve from China’s invention of a bamboo flying toy (a bamboo copter with a stick attached) into the present sophisticated engine for the vehicle. It wasn’t until 1480 that Leonardo da Vinci created a design for the machine. Then 300 years passed with Russian, British, and French versions, and, after another 100 years, the American Thomas Edison designed his own flight machine.

Helicopter safety

Owned by Helicopter Inc., the helicopter, which crashed on March 18 was an 11-year-old Eurocopter model. It was used for many news organizations. KING-TV and KOMO-TV shared the expense of running the helicopter for assignments. The plane was a temporary replacement while the other helicopter was being upgraded and repaired.

Gary Pfitzner (left) and Bill Strothman

Experts say if you ride a helicopter and you hear something is not sounding right, feel something is not right, or the weather is not good, you should get out immediately. We send our condolences to the families and friends of Gary Pfitzner and Bill Strothman, and wishes for a speedy recovery to Richard Newman, who was injured by the crash. (end)

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