The Valley lost four television newsmen Friday night — men who were remembered for their passion for broadcast news and flight, and their dedication to their jobs.
“We lost two of our most cherished colleagues,” 3TV reporter Mike Watkiss said during an afternoon newscast.
The impact on the community, where many people watched the chopper reports on a daily basis, was evident as community members streamed by the two news stations Friday, dropping off signs, notes and flowers.
Department of Public Safety Officer Cameron Weidenbach stopped by the ABC 15 office to drop off flowers from the metro east squad.
“We work the evening shift,” he said. “We come in contact with these guys on a daily basis.”
Keith Crider, of AAA Transportation said he came into contact with ABC News 15 staff regularly through the towing service. He dropped by the office with a cash donation.
Channel 3 locked the doors to the station and a flag outside was at half-mast.
No one from the ABC News 15 staff would speak personally about the incident, but the station did release a statement.
“This is a very sad day and our thoughts and prayers are with the families involved,” said ABC 15 General Manager Janice Todd in a written statement.
Channel 3 Pilot Scott Bowerbank, 42, has “millions of hours,” of flight experience, Watkiss said.
He joined the station in February 2004.
Bowerbank was also the director of operations at Westcor Aviation, Inc., a Scottsdale-based helicopter charter service.
The Scottsdale Airpark facility served as home base for many of the Valley’s news helicopters, and was a tight-knit community of pilots of photographers who all knew each other.
Channel 3 anchors told television audiences that Bowerbank was well-known among the aviation community.
“He flies for a lot of big corporations in the Valley, so his loss will be felt throughout the Valley,” Watkiss said.
Bowerbank also shared his flight knowledge. He taught Channel 3’s main pilot/reporter, Bruce Haffner, to fly.
Pete Corpstein, who shares an office building with Westcor Aviation, described Bowerbank as a very serious pilot.
He said Bowerbank took him up in a helicopter about five years ago — with photographer Jim Cox.
“As easy as it is for us to drive around town, it was that easy for (Bowerbank) to fly — but he took it very seriously,” Corpstein said. “He was a great guy and a very dedicated pilot. I was impressed with how he managed everything on the aircraft.”
Channel 3 photographer Jim Cox, 37, was preparing to finally fulfill his dream of learning to fly when his life was cut short Friday afternoon.
Cox started working as a photographer at 3TV in 1995.
But his father was a military pilot, and he always dreamed of flying, said reporter Mike Watkiss, who worked with Cox for years.
“Jim Cox was a sensitive soul and had the determination of a front-line warrior,” Watkiss told television viewers.
Reporter Carey Pena said she has worked with Cox since she joined the television station as an fresh ASU graduate in 1997.
“Jim Cox was always the photographer who you were a little scared to go out with, because he would challenge you. OK was never good enough,” Pena said. “He made me a better reporter and a better person because he strove to be the best.”
Cox grew up on Long Island in New York, Watkiss said.
According to the station, Cox very close to his parents and his girlfriend.
ABC 15 News photographer Rick Krolak,55, was an award-winning journalist who worked at the station for more than nine years, according to a statement released on the channel’s Web site.
Jim Cross, a reporter from KTAR (92.3 FM), said Krolak had a great sense of humor and was a skilled journalist.
“We would be at a scene where it was just awful,” Cross said. “And he would keep his head about him.”
Krolak had connections to Channel 3, too, where he worked as a photojournalist for ten years prior to his job at Channel 15.
“He was passionate about his work and he did his job,” said Kevin Christopher, a spokesman from the City of Mesa. “(He was) probably one of the most likable guys out there.”
Brandon Froemming, an ABC 15 photojournalist, said Krolak was the kind of guy who worked a lot, but that he always had a positive attitude and could “brighten your spirits.”
Krolak leaves behind three children. On Friday, he was suffering the loss of a grandchild who died Thursday.
Craig Smith, 46, was a pilot and reporter who covered breaking news stories as part of the ABC 15 Daybreak Team.
Television viewers often saw him onboard Chopper 15 with his partner, a West Highland white terrier named Molly, “The Flying Dog.”
Molly, who would sit inside a small, restrained portable pet carrier, was not onboard the helicopter Friday afternoon.
Smith began his broadcast career in 1987, working as a traffic reporter in Detroit.
Three years later, he began taking flying lessons and he earned his commercial helicopter rating in 1990, according to a statement released by ABC 15.
He then went to work for McMahon Helicopters, where he flew cargo for GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler. He also flew organ donations and organ transplant teams for two hospitals.
He joined ABC 15 News in September 2005.
When not flying, Smith enjoyed his antique cars and playing his guitar with his rock band, Crosstown Traffic, which played for charity events.
Brandon Froemming, an ABC 15 photojournalist, told the Tribune that he went on his first helicopter flight to cover a Phoenix housefire last month.
“I was very nervous, I didn’t know what it was going to be like up in a helicopter, and Craig said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll be fine,’” Froemming said.
- Tribune reporters David Biscobing, Lindsay Butler, Ryan Gabrielson, Jason Massad, Christian Richardson and Mike Sakal contributed to this report.