Hanging out and Hanging Up


Monday October 11, 2010

My first shift of the week started off early. I got a call from Joe Roche on the assignment desk at my station WCVB-TV about a hit run fatal in Revere by the Wonderland Dog Track rotary. Second call on this story got me to Lynn where the suspect was found at a methadone clinic and where his car was located. It was towed before I got there. I carefully took video of the building making sure I did not show any of the people who were getting treatment there.

On my way from Lynn to the Revere scene I heard a call on one of the news group channels I monitor about a parachutist who was stuck in the trees in Dunstable adjacent to the Pepperell Airport where skydiving is a hobby.

I called in and started heading to the scene. All the way there I could hear various rescue units heading to the scene and one of the frequencies said it was too far in the woods for the ladder truck to reach the man in the trees so a rope operation would be used.

In the meantime one of the places the office was calling insisted the parachutist was rescued causing confusion. I knew better as the outside rescue units were still responding.

I had my GPS on but still I was not sure exactly where I was going. I did know some of the responding rescuers which I hoped would help.

When I got near Dunstable a Rehab Five vehicle driven by Roger Baker (it is a volunteer group who help at firefighter involved scenes with hydration and other needs) and an out of town fire chief passed me.

I fell in behind them but they were moving too quickly for me to keep up with and although I was communicating with Baker via our Nextel’s he went one way and I went another.  I ended up about 8 miles out of the way at Pepperell Airport looking up and seeing lots of parachutes floating down but nowhere near where I needed to be.

The good news was I knew the rescue was not completed and the man in the trees was talking to rescuers which meant he was conscious and alert. I still had time to get there.

Then I went to the scene but the way the day was going with my geography continued and I went to the wrong side of the rescue operation. Police were there and I  was told where the press was located and how to get there. Of course that was another ten minutes away.  In the meantime from radio chatter I knew the rescue was not imminent.

I was one of the last TV stations there but I had a plan. The first thing I said to the group was I think I can get us into the rescue operation and if I did I would be the pool photographer. They all agreed. I knew a couple of the Chiefs operating at the scene from the many fire related incidents I have gone to over the years and most fire chiefs realize the use of good public relations and when this rescue was completed it had all the markings of great work and a good training exercise for their review. I wanted to be involved.

In the meantime Kelly Tuthill had arrived with one of our satellite trucks. For over an hour we were all shooting what we thought was the parachute and rescuers through the trees. Most of our video camera displays are viewed through a black and white viewfinder so trying to figure out what was a branch and what was the parachute was very difficult. I would pick a branch or two with my bare eyes and then try and find it through the viewfinder. Thankfully I did not have to rely on this footage for our final product.

One of the Fire Chiefs came out and said they were ready for the pool photographer and it would be me. I grabbed my video camera, tripod, IPhone, digital camera for stills, extra batteries and tape. I then asked Brian Foley the Chief Photographer at WBZ if he would like to join me.

When we got into the scene the dreaded yellow tape was up but it was only up to show us where we could be. We had a great location, able to move around and see everything you could see but the tree branches were an issue from certain angles.

The rescuers were finishing putting their ropes and pulleys in place, talking to the parachutist, Andrew Stack. Brian and I were running around trying to cover all the angles.  I was shooting with three cameras to begin with and Brian asked if he could help and I handed him the tripod and video camera. It was great and more fun for me to shoot stills and I knew Brian would do a great job.

We were in the woods probably about 15 minutes and I likened what they were doing to what I saw when I was in the woods in Manchester By The Sea after the Hood Blimp landed in their woods. Back then I did not have a great still camera but the video was terrific. This time both still and video images were very good and of course the best part in both incidents the men were rescued without serious injury. No injuries for the Hood Blimp Pilot and only leg injuries for the parachutist.

After the rescue one of the Chiefs talked with us and adding that a new high angle rescue unit has recently been training and what they have learned was used in this rescue. There were a couple of professional parachutists that came over from the airport who had gone in the woods to help find the victim and talked with him.  They described what they believed happened. They both thought it was user error.

Back at the office I talked with Karen Lippert a photographer I work with who has done over 1100 jumps and this is her description from watching and reading the stories that went with the incident;

“The victim was a newly licensed skydiver who lost altitude awareness and deployed his canopy late. Because he was late in deploying his canopy he did not have the altitude or time to navigate his way back to the drop zone and ended up in the trees.”

Kelly and I went to Lowell General Hospital from there waiting to see if we could talk with the victim or his wife but nothing happened the first day.  We went back up another day and still nothing then on the third day Andrew Stack agreed to talk to us (so we would leave him alone).

He was great explaining exactly what he thought happened and he felt his hand altimeter had not functioned correctly thus he did not deploy his chute on time. Luckily his automatic chute did.  He knew he was a lucky man and we joked about his next jump which he hoped would be in the spring if his wife lets him.

I have been in contact with Andrew via email and I hope to be invited when he does his next jump, it should be fun!

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