sad day in aurora

At 1:15am early Thursday morning, two hours after finishing my Wednesday night shift, I was awakened by a call from Todd Panagopoulos, one of my bosses at the Tribune.

He alerted me to an Air Angels’ medical helicopter crash in Aurora, about 10 miles from my home. He said that four were dead.

I headed off to scene not knowing what to expect.

After arriving, I eventually made my way down to the crash site. As a photographer there were a couple things working against me. First, the crash was in the middle of a field with 6-foot high grass. Second, the force of the accident left the helicopter in small pieces so except for the rotors out near the road, there was nothing to photograph that said “chopper crash”. 

For the next 6 hours I would repeatedly walk about 1/2 mile from my car to the scene, shoot photos, walk back to my car and transmit. At one point an apartment complex was evacuated as a precaution in case that the radio tower that was damaged in the crash would collapse.

At 8am, I was relieved by fellow Tribune photographer Michael Tercha who would spend the next 7 hours working the scene.

At 4:15pm in the afternoon, after a nice nap and an afternoon with my wife, I received another call from Todd. He told me that Robert and Brooke Blockinger, the parents of 13-month old crash victim Kirstin Blockinger, would be visiting the scene shortly. 

The handful of Tribune photographers working the story were in the hometowns of the four accident victims, so Todd apologetically asked if I could go back to the scene.

When I returned, the Blockingers were all ready at the crash scene in the middle of the field. I positioned myself across the road with the other media vultures. This shooting position was complicated by not only the tall grass but the four lanes of rush hour traffic that were crossing through my sight line.

A minute or two after I arrived, I spotted the Blockinger’s embracing at the crash site. I made the photo above and then photographed them as they headed through the field and back to their cars. A photo from the exit ran on the front page of today’s paper.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and as a parent feel empathy for the Blockingers but I still realize that my job is to communicate the loss to the Chicago Tribune readers. The newspaper is still a powerful agent in societal change and hopefully our coverage of this story will help improve the poor safety record of emergency medical helicopters.

One Response to “sad day in aurora”

  1. I have often thought about the photographers who are faced with the difficult task of documenting a family’s loss. I know it can’t be easy, and I am sure that you have occasionally (often?) been the recipient of comments from frustrated and grieving family members who don’t understand the need for you to be there. But I for one am glad you are, and glad that so many like you are as well. We all know the power of a photograph when telling a story, and hopefully–certainly–your work will carry the power to empower change. Thanks for doing what you do.

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