Dueling choppers

For 45 minutes, Atlanta police and Georgia State Patrol cruisers chased some fool in a pickup truck Wednesday morning. An Atlanta police helicopter joined in, as did the helicopters of three of the four Atlanta TV stations. Once the TV aircraft joined the fray, it became a Live Breaking News event. And as the fool drove the wrong way on I-20, then plowed through in-town neighborhoods and streets, the chase became increasingly dangerous.

In the final seconds of Wednesday’s chase, the pickup truck clipped a State Patrol vehicle on Amsterdam Avenue in Midtown. Then another cruiser performed a PIT maneuver, spinning the truck sideways and crashing it into a fence. The suspect exited the truck, tried to flee but stumbled. Three cops jumped him and took him into custody. Here’s how it shook out Wednesday.

  • WXIA’s chopper got the best shot of the last seconds of the chase. It had the cleanest shot of the clipping of the State Patrol car and the pit maneuver. A tree obscured the take-down of the suspect however.
  • WAGA was as good. The clipping of the State Patrol car was clean. A tree briefly obscured the pit maneuver. But WAGA’s view of the take-down of the suspect was easily the best. You could see (and count) as a cop pulled his baton and delivered nine blows to the prone suspect.
  • WSB had plain lousy luck by comparison. A tree completely obscured the clipping of the state patrol cruiser. Though the finale was visible, a tree obscured some of the action, including the take-down.
  • WGCL’s helicopter showed up after it was over.

One can’t begin to overstate the danger when four or five helicopters (including police) begin a pursuit, then suddenly stop. The 2007 mid-air collision of two Phoenix news helicopters killed four people. It happened at the end of a fairly tame police chase. KNXV’s helicopter was doing a live shot when it happened. (If you click the link, be forewarned: What you’ll see is pretty haunting.)

Thankfully, the days are gone when a photog stood on the skid of a news helicopter and shot shoulder-mounted video. Helicopters are now equipped with gyroscopic cameras mounted on the belly of the aircraft, operated with a joystick inside. The video is steady, and the pilot no longer has to keep the action on the starboard side of the aircraft.

But it’s still a game of musical chairs. When the action suddenly ends, as it did Wednesday, the random positioning of the helicopters— and the skills of the pilots and joystick operators— will decide which station will see what.

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Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

8 thoughts on “Dueling choppers

  1. GPBurdell93

    I can remember the dramatic shot of the photog hanging off the side of the chopper as it swooped down & left in–WXIA’s?–promo back in the 80′s or early 90′s.

    It must’ve been the 80′s, because I was a young enough man to think that looked like a cool job!

    Reply
  2. rptrcub

    Speaking of helicopters with photogs clutching on for dear life on the side of the chopper, I am reminded of WXIA back in the day, for some reason. What’s goin’ on with Bruce Erion these days? I know there was an AJC article a few years ago about him, but I’m just curious.

    Reply
  3. arky

    I’m still surprised no TV stations in any city I’m aware of have decided to make a one-chopper pool for everybody. It would be safer and save a ton of money.

    I realize TV stations love to pimp their newscopters, but honestly, is anyone in a city the size of Atlanta *still* impressed by the fact that a TV station has it’s own chopper? Pooling would have a lot less effect on the final product than cutting staff and making everyone one-man band.

    Reply
  4. locutus of borg

    Most people don’t realize that the individual stations don’t own their choppers; they only lease them from an outfit called Helicopters Inc. I know one of the pilots there and he says they are paid by Helicopters Inc and not by the stations. So while they are flying for one station and want to get their station the breaking news glory, their number one concern is safety. He says all the pilots are in constant communication with each other when over one of these breaking news scene and, according to him, their number one concern is getting home to the wife and kids. BTW, he told me that Bruce Erion is flying for LifeFlight, an air ambulance outfit somewhere in metro Atlanta.

    Reply
  5. rptrcub

    @arky: There are uses for choppers, agreed — like over natural disasters or massive chemical spills or traffic messes. Gas main breaks? Not so much, unless someone sets one on fire.

    Reply
  6. Mike Daly

    Back in the day…I was shooting the shoulder mounted video camera in what used to be called “Chopper 5.” The day the Mall of Georgia opened, I was in the air with Chopper Pilot John Massey (best ever). I was relaxing during a break and had the camera pointed down between my feet that were out on the skid. The producers called and said I was making them nervous. I had a harness on.
    md

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Bye bye, Skycam « live apartment fire

  8. BoddagettaFlyer

    I used to work at McCollum Field in Kennesaw, and at the time (2005-2006), Erion was still flying for RescueAir1 (what the Atlanta franchise of “LifeFlight” became after Georgia Baptist became Atlanta Medical Center). As a kid, Erion was my hero (and the reason I became a helicopter pilot)…I was one of the lucky ones who made the schoolkid segment at the end of the 6 broadcast after he landed at my elementary school. So imagine my shock and giddiness when I wander into their office at the airport 20 years later and he’s lounging on the sofa.

    Truly a nice guy.

    Reply

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