Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A multivehicle crash stops traffic on the westbound Bay Bridge.
End of my shift, late afternoon, and we hear the call for the accident, confirmed fatalities. We know that unless someone is already in the area, getting close is next to impossible. So we need a plane. After a dozen fruitless calls to area airfields, one of our reporters remembers a stunt pilot who keeps his plane nearby. The pilot answers the phone.
I think it took about 23 minutes from me sitting at the computer surfing around and waiting for the day to end to be tearing down a runway in a cherry red aluminum stunt biplane, camera clasped between my legs and frankly pretty scared. Stunt biplanes are not clunky Cessna's, struggling to get off the ground, they leap into the air like they've got rockets. Maybe two minutes later we approach the Bay Bridge, and I count at least five hovering helicopters in the area. It's disconcerting to look DOWN on a helicopter as you blast by at 200mph. We get to the accident and the pilot turns the plane on its wing and tries to circle as tight as he can. Now this plane is probably the worst shooting platform you can imagine. The canopy is so close to your face you can't use a long lense, and the plane can literally not slow down without stalling, and add just a tiny bit of turbulence, and I find focus next to impossible. The setting sun on the shiny tanker truck and spilled fluids make exposure a guess. We got in two passes before the flustered helicopter pilots complain loudly enough to air traffic control to get us kicked from the airspace, and I had no idea what I had caught or not. We land, I jump back in the car, and out of the whole thing I have three useable frames, barely. The entire event lasted about an hour and a half for me, from the first call to handing in the shots to the editors.
This is why I will never be able to work a normal job for the rest of my life.