Tuesday’s deadly crash of a KOMO TV news helicopter brought up powerful memories for former KIRO TV reporter Bob Branom, who was among three who survived a mid-air collision and emergency crash landing while flying in the station’s own news helicopter.
It happened on Memorial Day in 1980 as Chopper 7 was flying towards Edmonds to get a look at ferry traffic, Branom recounts in an interview with KIRO Radio’s Tom and Curley Show.
The helicopter collided with a small, fix-winged airplane flown by KOMO TV, and suddenly lost all power. They began plummeting to earth.
“I wasn’t sure what I should do. I reached over and I grabbed the pilot by the leg and I said ‘are we going to make it?’ And he said ‘I don’t know, I think so.'”
The pilot performed what’s known as an auto-rotation, which slows the descent and allows the helicopter to spin rapidly, using the air as a sort of cushion.
“We both ended up making crash landings on separate golf courses and fortunately, in our case, there were no injuries to people in either aircraft,” he says. “Our helicopter was still totaled and we were very lucky to all emerge not even injured, but unfortunately that was not the case in this particular case.”
After that incident, Branom says he was asked often about whether he would fly in a helicopter again. He never hesitated.
“I always said that I was much more comfortable, particularly in Chopper 7, because of the skill of the pilot we had, but also because I always think the helicopter is a more stable platform,” he says. “Also we had a Vietnam combat trained pilot who, himself, had been involved in a number of forced landings or crashes in Vietnam and he was a superb pilot.”
Branom says he’s been thinking a lot about what Strothman and Pfitzner were going through as the helicopter crashed.
“I don’t think I can really imagine it because they were in an obvious catastrophic crash situation, sounds like almost from the get go, and it was obviously over very, very quickly, whereas ours was this rapid but relatively stable descent from about 1,200 feet to the ground.”
And when they landed, there was relief Branom had never experienced and likely never would again.
“We ran from the aircraft and my photographer ran toward me, and we jumped in each others arms. We were so glad to be alive,” he says.