Aerial News Gathering: Is It Worth It?

Reading about the fiery mid-air collision involving two Arizona news choppers in which four people died brings back a lot of memories.

As investigators try to sort out whether competition for the best shot of a police chase in progress contributed to the fatal crash that took the lives of two pilots and both TV news videographers, I’m reminded of my years as a TV news reporter, and how I came to dread the “chance” to be on the helicopter.

At first, of course, it was novel and exciting, plus a story had to be pretty important to fire up the chopper. Sometimes, it was just a matter of logistics. No other way to get to breaking news as it was actually “breaking.” Travel by land, and all you’d get was “aftermath.”

Some stories (like when news choppers followed OJ’s slow moving white Bronco) lend themselves best to the “aerial” view. Big forest fires are another example. Wide angle shots from a moving chopper are the only way to get a feel for the totality of the destruction.

One chopper pilot I used to fly with in Denver, Mike Silva, learned his trade as a combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Mike has become a national hero of sorts. He once landed the Denver news chopper in the path of a fleeing criminal who held the driver of the vehicle he’d commandeered at gunpoint. That story has been broadcast often nationwide. Right now, Mike – one of the nicest men I’ve ever met, and also brave – has re-upped, and is in training to pilot medivac choppers in Iraq. His 400-day tour of duty will again take him into combat zones, this time to rescue wounded soldiers.

The other pilot in Denver I used to fly with is no longer alive. Taking the chopper in for service, he somehow dropped it into Colorado’s Horsetooth Reservoir. He was submerged in the icy water long enough that permanent brain damage ensued. Some years later, he finally died – leaving behind two children who adored him.

I was very fond of this Australian who once told me I was a “nice little sausage” – but his stunts with the chopper were one reason I informed the station I would no longer go on chopper news stories after I had my son. More than once when I’d been with this pilot, he flew the chopper under high power lines. Or dropped down low to chase a herd of elk. Or skimmed through a narrow canyon, the rotors barely missing the sides of cliffs. He was an incredible pilot. And a daredevil. I was my baby’s only mom.

For a time, all Denver stations discontinued the use of helicopters – due to, in large measure I’m sure, “liability”: the financial cost to corporations when personnel lose their lives in the “line of duty.” Public perception after crashes like the one in Arizona plays a part as well. Viewers rightly ask, was chasing that video really worth four lives?

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer/editor. Read her articles at and her blog at Contact her at   

















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