(CBS Seattle) — As crash investigators begin the task of figuring out what caused the fatal helicopter crash near the Space Needle Tuesday, the local news media is dealing with an unusual situation: reporting on the tragedy while coping with the loss of their colleagues.
The Johnson and Johnson Morning Show of radio affiliate KMPS talked with KOMO TV reporter Mark Miller Wednesday about the crash and how the photographer and pilot who were killed will be remembered.
“He had an intensity about him creatively. He a beautiful, artistic eye,” Miller said of photographer Bill Strothman. “He was a joy to work with.”
Strothman was a longtime photographer who had won more than a dozen Emmys during his career, according to KOMO. He had recently come out of retirement to work as a freelancer. Many other KOMO staff described Strothman as a journalist with a passion for his craft.
Miller said the pilot, Gary Pfitzner was “the most mellow, happy, chilled out guy.” Fellow pilots described Pfitzner as a skilled pilot who was dedicated to safety, according to KOMO. After flying for KOMO, Pfitzner had a full time job working for Boeing, where he was a composites expert.
The helicopter carrying Strothman and Pfitzner landed to refuel Tuesday morning and was taking off again from Fisher Plaza when it crashed to the ground and burst into flames. Witnesses said something didn’t sound right as the helicopter took off, then people said it started “pitching” right before the crash.
Meela Taruc told KMPS she was in the car with her mom when they came upon the accident scene.
“As soon as we got to that light, we could not believe there was a helicopter on top of two cars. And all of a sudden I see a man running out of the vehicle and he was on fire,” Taruc said. “I just couldn’t believe this happened right in front of me.”
The helicopter came down on Richard Newman’s car. He was able to get out, but suffered second- and third-degree burns. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center and is still in serious condition. Two other people in nearby vehicles were not injured.
Flowers have been placed near the crash site in remembrance of Pfitzner and Strothman. The families of both the victims have released statements asking for privacy while they mourn.
“It’s not a conscious process, but we have to separate our feelings from tragedies that we cover that do not inovlve us,” Miller said. “Somehow you’re able to be focused on the job that has to get done. At the same time you are aware of these terrible feelings and the emotions others are experiencing.” Miller added that the outpouring of support from other local media is helping ease the pain.
It could take investigators months to understand what caused the crash. At a news conference Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said it’s looking into whether construction cranes in the area played a role. There was no cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder on board, but neither are required.
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