Almost seven years ago to the day, Valley news helicopters were in hot pursuit of a three-hour car chase between police and a man who was later sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Hovering and maneuvering in close quarters under the busy airspace of Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport, the news crew inside each aircraft were struggling to keep up with the location of each suspect as well as the location of each helicopter.
Unlike the passenger jets traveling in and out of the area, which are under strict guidance from air traffic controller and collision alert systems, the news helicopters were operating under “see and avoid” visual flight rules, making their already high workload higher. With five helicopters in the area, two collided mid-air—the Channel 3 news aircraft broke into pieces while airborne, and Channel 15’s plunged nose-down into the ground—killing each two-man crew instantly.
The National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the collision was the result of pilot error, blaming each crew’s very high workload for contributing to their failure to avoid one another. Each news helicopter crew was responsible for remaining clear of police choppers and each other while covering stories, and were assigned to their own frequency for communicating with each other and providing position reports.
Following this tragic event, three of the Valley’s five major news stations share a single helicopter, which transmits live feed directly to 12 News, Channel 5, and Channel 3. This shared aircraft has high-visibility anti-collision lights installed as per the recommendations of the NTSB’s final report, and congestion in the air has decreased significantly.
The Valley helicopter accident attorneys at Curry, Pearson & Wooten extend their condolences to the families of the four journalists who were killed, and continue to follow changes made to operating procedures in the busy Phoenix airspace.