Death from Above

After a much needed and restful vacation, I have returned back to the News Gathering fold with a double duty in the skies over Vancouver. Kinda nice really, flying the clear skies of summer. Now if only we could get ourselves a big story- err- big visual story.
My recent tours of duty in the clouds have produced very little in the “Big Story” catorgory. Instead I seemed to be doomed to flying minimum hours during our show and providing what we call in the business “bumper and weather alminac” shots for the broadcast. It can ware on “story hunter” like myself as over time you begin to feel like you have lost the edge or are just cursed.
But coming back from 3 weeks away from the grind, where I only gathered sand and sun, I had found new energy and enthusiam for what is is I do.

That said, Monday was like most, a couple of flights to check out potential calls that could yield what I had been yearning for. They turned out to be routine, nothing to write home about.
But it was on my flight on Tuesday during the show, I was to witness something that will stay with me for a long time.

We were over the PNE grounds in east Vancouver when my Blackberry began to vibrate wildly. Nodoubt Gregg, our ears on the desk, had something he wanted us to check out. Just as the device began to gyrate around the console, the two-way radio cracked with Gregg’s voice asking me to check the message and head there asap.
It seems there had been a crash on the 99 near the 91 interchange. Usually these things are nothing more that shots of twisted wreckage and a line of motorists trying to get home to thier families. But this would be different.

It took us a bit longer than usual to get into the airspace over the scene because of a number of things, not the least of it being the location was next to a very busy airport at Boundry Bay.

I was able to survey the scene from a distance and see a medivac helicopter landing on the highway. I thought if nothing else the heli evacuating a victum will make this assignment visual.
Once granted direction into the airspace we took a position over the scene. I used my lens to get in close to assess what was hapening below.

It looked like two vehicles, both with heavy damage and EMT crews working feveroushly to free a trapped person. As I zoomed closer I could see the rescuers free the individual and place them onto a stretcher. The Paramedics working hard on this person. A flurry of activity and an immage of them administering CPR.

“This is bad” I said to our pilot. “They are doing chest compressions on the victim.”
This was nothing that any photog worth his time has not seen before. I too was no different, I had over the years seen many scenes like this unfold before my lens. Each one of them was personal. But somehow being at 1500ft somehow makes covering scenes like this impersonal, clinical, detached. Bomber crews from the 40’s describe this same detachment from thier enemy.

“We are coming to you in 30 seconds” a voice belonging to Jimmy our man back at CTV Control.
I widen out slightly so as not to reveal a licence plate number or something that could potentially cause this person’s family (if they were watching) to identify thier loved one.

The scene was very desperate below. A team of skilled people doing everything to save a life.

They came to us and I slowly zoomed into the scene. Not too close, but close enough to see the drama unfold.
Suddenly my headset rings with Jimmy’s voice, “Clear!”

Now we were off the air and as we repositioned the aircraft and my lens left the scene below, an other scene revieled itself just a kilometer or so to the north. More carnage on the 99. This time it appeared as though there were 4 vehicles involved. I relayed the information to the show producer. We did not know at the time, but these two scenes were related.

I panned the the FLIR camera back to the dire site where paramedics were doing thier thing. I zoomed in close to give me any indication of what was happening. Then all at once, the body language of those on the ground, heads and shoulders down, indicated the battle to save a life was lost. Chest compressions had stopped. Urgency was now gone. Two firefighters covered the person with a sheet. All of it captured within my viewfinder.

My God, I had just witnessed someone’s death at 1500 ft.

It was a quiet flight back to base, one I will not forget.
As I starred out of my window, I said a little prayer for the family of that person and for those men and women who tried so hard to save a stranger’s life.

As it turned out the victim was an elderly lady who had some how ended up traveling at speed on the wrong way of the freeway. The other scene to the north was caused by someone trying to avoid her car. It has sparked a debate about testing drivers of an advanced age.