Valley News Helicopter Crash

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Pat McGroder, a lawyer who brokered a settlement for the families of two local journalists killed in a helicopter crash two years ago is calling for tougher restrictions on covering news from the air.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A lawyer who brokered a settlement for the families of two local journalists killed in a helicopter crash two years ago is calling for tougher restrictions on covering news from the air. Pat McGroder represented the families of the journalists on the channel 3 helicopter, which crashed with a channel 15 helicopter, a crash that killed four local journalists in all. Joining me now is Pat McGroder. And thank you so much for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Pat McGroder: Good to see you, Ted.

Ted Simons: You have got a tape now, an animated recreation of what happened. Talk to us, we will show it here in a second but talk to us about what we will see.

Pat McGroder: During the course of the litigation, Ted, it was important for us to understand what happened and how it happened. Of course, now it's equally important in terms of deciding what to do about what occurred. So the animation that you will see was created as a result of interviews and analysis of the radar tracking, analysis of the videotapes from the respective stations, satellite imagery, and voice over controls from our experts. So I think what you will see now is that aspect of the animation relative to channel 15.

Ted Simons: All right. Let's go ahead and watch now this animated recreation of the helicopter crash two years ago.

Chopper: Right now this is all northbound along Central just south of Indian School. Now he's heading eastbound and he hit some more barricades. This guy doesn't care what he hits.

Reporter: Do we know that this truck is stolen?

Chopper: We have no idea. All I know is what Firebird reported to me that apparently the police pulled this vehicle over, and the vehicle then backed into the cruiser. There were no injuries to the police. Just simply took off and that's how this all ensued.

Reporter: It looks like they are probably --

Chopper: Now he's going into a parking lot. Now he's stopped. We will see what happened. He's stopped. This may be the end of this thing.

Reporter: He's taking off running.

Chopper: Now it's a foot chase.

Chopper: Now he's jumped in another vehicle.

Chopper: Now he's in another vehicle. Door is open. Oh! [crashing]

Ted Simons: Again, an animated recreation. I know how you got the information. That's startling to see. Even animation. That's troubling to watch. Real quickly how often is that kind of high tech stuff used in litigation?

Pat McGroder: It depends on the case. At this level of case we used this type of technology routinely. We've used it in a number of cases and in this case it was particularly important. Somewhat gruesome unfortunately and obviously dramatic. But this animation was used to allow the jury to put themselves in a position where they could determine exactly what occurred by seeing the animation based on all of the scientific evidence that we were able to glean.

Ted Simons: And the settlement now was with U.S. helicopters. Why was the settlement with the helicopter company? I saw two pretty healthy helicopters up there in the skies.

Pat McGroder: We represented the families of Scott Bowerbank and Jim Cox who were in the channel 3 helicopter. The channel 15 helicopter was actually owned by U.S. helicopters, and Mr. Smith was an employee of U.S. helicopters. Channel 15 leased both the helicopter and Mr. Smith's services from U.S. helicopters.

Ted Simons: OK. With that in mind, what kind of changes are you and the folks that you have been working with looking to try to recommend and try to put upon new stations in general, helicopters, pilots in particular, so something like this never happens again?

Pat McGroder: It's been two years since this community was rocked with this tragedy. And we are still waiting for the F.A.A. to adopt some or all of the recommendations of the NTSB. We think it's too slow. The families are urging the F.A.A. to adopt mandatory requirements of mandatory restrictions eliminating the concept of the pilot reporter. In other words, what we are calling for is a clear dichotomy between the piloting activities, and the on-air broadcasting activities. The NTSB has made such a recommendation, although perhaps not as strongly as we would like to see it. The helicopter association international has now developed standards, policies, and practices which support those concepts. And our hope is that in major metropolitan areas, the F.A.A. will ban the use of the reporter-pilot and require, in many circumstances, the use of pool feeds, meaning one helicopter that feeds multiple stations in these metropolitan areas.

Ted Simons: Are we seeing that now? I know here in town some stations have pooled in terms of helicopter coverage. What are we seeing here in town and around the country?

Pat McGroder: Well, what we are seeing here in town is just what you have indicated. Now, we are not sure that the lack of a pilot-reporter helicoptering is a result of economic conditions or a decision made by the station ownership that they ought to put safety before ratings and safety before news. But nonetheless, we're pleased with the progress here. Nationally, we're not seeing the same type of move to eliminate the pilot-reporter position and ensure that if, in fact, there is E.N.G. news gathering those helicopters are piloted independently, and if, in fact, it requires on-air reporting that there is a separate reporter.

Ted Simons: Are you hearing this kind of recommendation from the videographers, the photographers themselves from the pilots? Or is it basically, they got a job to do, if this is what they are hired to do they are going to do what they are told?

Pat McGroder: I believe the two seminal organizations, the press paragraphers association and the helicopter international organization, have called for the type of changes that I have mentioned and alluded to. And hopefully, with the help of those organizations, and the responsibility, I think, of the stations and the television media, we will see more, more endeavors in terms of safety, and ensuring that not only, not only, Ted, that the pilots and the photo journalists are safe but the people on the ground are safe. You know, god spared a lot of people in this tragedy. This tragedy occurred, essentially downtown Phoenix, and, but for the grace of god we would have had a lot more injuries and deaths in this tragedy.

Ted Simons: Last question. The feds say that both pilots failed to see and failed to avoid each other. Obviously, you got a settlement going here that suggests otherwise. Feds dropped the ball on this?

Pat McGroder: We think they did. We think our evidence and the animation that in part you have seen and a part that you haven't seen clearly demonstrates and vindicates that Scott Bowerbank, the pilot of channel 3, acted responsibly, was in a safe position, and did nothing to cause or contribute to the cause of this horrific tragedy.

Ted Simons: Pat McGroder, thanks so much for joining us.

Pat McGroder: Nice to see you.

Pat McGroder

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