Daily Archives: August 1, 2008

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.