TV news choppers collide: Remembering those lost in tragedy over Phoenix 10 years ago

A look back at the helicopter crash in Phoenix that changed news forever.

Ten years ago Thursday, a tragedy in the skies over central Phoenix. Two TV news helicopters collided in mid-air over Steele Indian School Park while covering a story.

The pilots and photographers lost that day were friends and colleagues of ours. They were also incredible people.

That’s what makes today a tough one for many of us.

Friends and family of the men gathered Thursday at the memorial at Steele Indian School Park, which was erected a year after the crash that took their lives. 

"We've learned to live with the fact that he's not with us physically anymore, but I feel like he's with us everyday," said Jenny Cox, sister of 3TV photojournalist, Jim Cox.

"Any time I can remember my dad, and that I'm living for him, trying to honor his memory – any time I can carry his memory, it helps me tremendously," said Colton Krolak, ABC15 photographer Rick Krolak's son.

There was laughter and tears, followed by a moment of silence at 12:46 p.m., the moment the mid-air crash happened. A short prayer service was then conducted to honor the journalists who touched so many lives across the Valley.

On July 27, 2007 at 12:46 p.m., 3TV and ABC 15's choppers were hovering over the area near Central and Indian School Road, when they collided while covering a police pursuit.

12 News Photographer Daniel Clark was in Sky 12 above the scene watching all of this unfold through the lens of his camera.  

“At that time I was live reporting,” he said. “I thought I heard somebody scream.”

All eyes then moved to the crash, instead of the suspect.

“I went from the chase, immediately broke off of that, zoomed in and saw the wreckage," said Clark.

When the helicopters fell from the sky, four members of the media lost their lives.

"I hear my pilot start going through roll call of who was up in the air and then we found out," he said. 

Clark knew all four, ABC 15's pilot Craig Smith and photographer Rick Krolak and 3TV's pilot Scott Bowerbank and photographer Jim Cox.

“We all flew out of the same complex,” he said.

It physically took a toll on Clark to the point he had to seek counseling.

“It still bothers me,” he said.

Clark will never forget the words of a 3TV reporter when it happened.

"We lost true legends and that's what they were,” he said. “They were legends in town."

Since this tragic accident, the news industry changed. 12 News went to a shared helicopter, and from then on, the person who is reporting is the person designated as a reporter, not as a pilot. A change Clark sees as a change for the better.

"The safety factor is, is that, those are lives up there and not only are there lives up there… there's lives on the ground and fortunately at a tragic accident like that, it happened in the one place where nobody was really… at the time," he said.

The family of 3TV's photographer Jim Cox created The James Alan Cox Foundation for Student Photographers to celebrate their lives. It helps provide financial support to expand opportunities for young photographers. For more information on the foundation, visit https://www.jamesalancoxfoundation.org/.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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