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The 2007 Phoenix news helicopter collision occurred on July 27, 2007 at around 12:45pm MST when two AS-350 AStar helicopters from KNXV-TVmarker and KTVKmarker news stations collided in mid-air above Steele Indian School Park in Phoenixmarker, Arizonamarker while covering a police pursuit. Four people were killed: KTVK pilot Scott Bowerbank and photographer Jim Cox; and pilot Craig Smith and photographer Rick Krolak of KNXV. No one on the ground was injured.

As reported by the Associated Press, the KNXV helicopter was broadcasting live at the time of the collision, and this footage subsequently circulated on media-sharing websites such as YouTube. As the helicopter's camera was pointed at the ground, viewers did not see the other aircraft. KNXV pilot-reporter Craig Smith and anchor Rebecca Thomas were describing events live when Smith was heard to utter "Oh, geez!" as the image broke up and violent crashing noises were heard. The station immediately cut away to the studio news anchor, although screaming can be heard in the background before the link is cut off. In footage from the KTVK helicopter, viewers heard the pilot talking about the scene and then the picture just went black. There was no indication of a problem at all. Three other news helicopters from other stations (KSAZ, KPNX and KPHOmarker) were in the area and began reporting on the crash within seconds of it occurring. One photograph is known to exist, taken a moment after the collision and showing both helicopters plunging towards the ground. It was taken by La Voz. The image was circulated by the AP and shown on major media such as CNN.

KSAZmarker "SkyFox10" reporter-pilot Don Hooper witnessed the mid-air collision. In unedited video footage, Hooper becomes very shaken and upset as he reports that "Channel 15 and Channel 3 just had a mid-air collision. They are in a park." The video also contains audio of Hooper calling the tower at nearby Sky Harbor airportmarker on his aircraft's FAA radio reporting the collision. Hooper then talks on a discreet frequency to another news helicopter belonging to KPNXmarker saying he is OK, but two other helicopters just crashed. Hooper then says "I think it was Scott" referring to KTVK pilot Scott Bowerbank.

The cause of the mid-air collision was investigated by both the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB stated ...the probable cause of this accident was both pilots' failure to see and avoid the other helicopter. Contributing to this failure was the pilots' responsibility to perform reporting and visual tracking duties to support their station's ENG operation. Contributing to the accident was the lack of formal procedures for Phoenix-area ENG pilots to follow regarding the conduct of these operations.

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said she could not remember any previous incident involving two news helicopters colliding while covering a story.

The day of the accident, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris brought up the possibility that the suspect in the chase the two helicopters were watching could "be held responsible for any of the deaths from this tragedy."

Two years after the accident, the families of Scott Bowerbank and Jim Cox announced an undisclosed settlement was agreed with US Helicopters, the owners of the Channel 15 helicopter. Both legal teams released a video reconstructing details of the accident. The footage shows the Channel 3 helicopter being struck from behind by the Channel 15 helicopter.

Sharp Echo

Five local news helicopters were covering the pursuit. In order to prevent a collision and keep clear of the police helicopter, Phoenix area news pilots used a system called Sharp Echo which required all of them operate on one frequency to communicate changes in position or intentions.

References

  1. Accident Report 0902 Midair Collision of Electronic News Gathering Helicopters KTVK-TV, Eurocopter AS350B2, N613TV, and U.S. Helicopters, Inc., Eurocopter AS350B2, N215TV Aircraft National Transportation Safety Board. Accessed 2009-03-09. Archived 2009-05-18.
  2. BBC NEWS | Americas | Deaths in US TV helicopter crash
  3. Topic Galleries - chicagotribune.com


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