KOMO staff covers crash that took their own

Throughout the morning Tuesday, reporters and anchors for KOMO-TV in Seattle have updated viewers on the helicopter crash that killed two inside the station's news helicopter. They often did so with shaky voices.

Reporting on the scene after the crash, weekend morning anchor Denise Whitaker said on air that as people headed to the scene, they "stopped first to say I'm sorry."



Kyle Moore, Seattle Fire Department PIO, is a former reporter himself, according to his bio.

Over the past 22-years, he has worked as a reporter and assignment manager at various TV stations including KCAL in Los Angeles, KIRO TV here in Seattle and most recently KING TV.

This is a family, Moore said of the station and people involved during a press briefing after the crash.

"They are a part of our family and I can tell you at this point they are quality people and we feel a terrible loss...," he said on air. "This is a television station that is in a state of shock, as are the families of those involved."

It's a close-knit group of people who have gone through trying times, KOMO anchor Dan Lewis agreed on air. They cover these kinds of tragedies all the time.

"It's hard when it's people you don't know," Lewis said. "It's extremely difficult when it's two people you've worked with closely."

On Tuesday afternoon, KOMO identified the two victims of the crash, Bill Strothman and Gary Pfitzner.

"Though the world is a far better place for having Bill in it, I sure as hell wasn't ready to say goodbye," Strothman's friend Doug Tolmie wrote on Facebook.

Al Tompkins, senior faculty at Poynter for broadcast and online, wrote in an e-mail that while we don't know what caused Tuesday's crash, "it may be time to begin talking about how TV stations use helicopters."

For example, should stations attempt to land and takeoff from pads that are in business or residential areas?

The obvious advantage to landing at or near a station is that it cuts down on the time it takes to get a crew aboard and start reporting from a scene.

But an aircraft that gets in trouble taking off from an airport has far fewer concerns about hitting objects above and below it.

After the 2007 news helicopter crash in Phoenix, Tompkins said, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a report with recommendations for stations, and some stations did make changes. Largely because of budgetary concerns, he said, many stations share a helicopter, as KING and KOMO did. "But it also reduced the congestion in the skies during breaking news."

These kinds of crashes, of course, are rare. So when they happen, especially when it involves a TV station, it is big news. In the days after a tragedy, newsrooms are used to writing stories about lessons learned or system failures or ways the crash may have been prevented. For the sake of our newsrooms and our communities, it is a conversation that every newsroom that uses a helicopter should have.


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