Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Camp Pickton: Day 1

Camp Pickton came to life very early for my colleagues Dave, Pete, Kate and Carrie. The beast known as CTV Newsnet was hungry and needed to be fed. Kate would provide live hits for Newsnet as well as local. It would be a long day and we all knew that.

The planning for Camp Pickton began many months ago. We have had large trials before. Ones involving scores of reporters and cameras. A few years ago some of you might remember there was an assault trial in Vancouver that garnered North America wide attention. The trial involved NHL hockey player Marty McSorley.
At the time no one from the Court Services or the Sheriff's Department knew just what kinds of problems this trial would present. Large and I mean large, moving scrums of TV cameras, photographers, radio reporters, news paper reporters etc, etc. Following Mr. McSorley in and out of court. People clamoring , jockey-ing, pushing, shoving to get a clip, comment, a shot, a better shot. It was a zoo. Add to the mix that on one day during Marty's case, Wayne Gretzky showed up. Instant circus. There were safety issues, there were seating issues inside the courthouse, it was a logistical nightmare.
The next Circus that came to town was the Todd Bertuzzi trial ( I know, all the bad ass NHL stuff happens right here in Vancouver) This time court services had a plan. This time an attempt to coordinate all assembled media so that all would have access to a reasonable photo op of Bertuzzi entering and leaving court. A podium was set up by court services for statements and questions to Defence and Crown Council. It seemed orderly. Everyone got what they wanted at the end of the day.

Now we have this Pickton Trial. Court Services taking what they have learned from previous hi profile trials began an open dialogue with reps from each of the local media and representatives of national and international media. The result: Camp Pickton. Multiple court rooms for media, family and public. Uni mic positions and pool feeds to all who entered the pool agreement from two podiums. A tent city of "Live" locations in the courtyard with fibre optic drops and electrical service to each tent. Parking is very limited around the courthouse and it's geographic location doesn't provide a path for terrestrial microwave links or a very good look at the southern sky for satellite access. Yet the infrastructure was installed and we now have a media village right there outside of the New Westminister Court House.

Our operation managed to secure nearby office and knowing that this trial that is expected to last a year, transformed that office space to a functional news bureau with edit bays, work stations and engineering support for the CTV Team covering this trial.

Mobile Operations Supervisor and tech "Yoda" Dave Alexander smile for the camera during the early morning hours of Day 1.

My day began at 7am at Camp Pickton. I was tasked to relieve Pete mid morning at our Newsnet set. I would be doing Live hits with Kate, Todd, Lisa and a number of guests that would make up the content of the special coverage on Newsnet.

The activity around the front of the tent city, awaiting the arrival of the Accused, his council, Crown and the families of the victims. It wasn't long after this shot that it all began, fast and furious. By 9:30 everyone is in the court and the ENG guys go into hurry up and wait mode. Those of us on live cameras were suppling hits into respective networks.

A couple of our rivals gather for a light moment during a break in the activity in the tent position next door to mine.

Susie G of CTV seeking shelter from the rain. Susie was acting field producer. She has been working on this case longer than anyone I know. She is usually seen with a camera on her shoulder, but an injury and cast on her shooting hand has sidelined her. Susie knows all of the players in this drama and provides all of our ENG crew with intel on who's who as they walk into the courthouse.

Meanwhile back inside the bureau, editor Tim Latham (Hack) waits for the first tapes to come in and edit. Tim would edit a DNS piece and Janet's local piece before the day would be done. He's giving me the "why the hell aren't you shooting something" look during this photo.

Kate C just before her umteenth hit into Newsnet. She has been going since 3am and didn't stop until the end.

A shot of ENG camera op Steve H (without hat). He was our pool guy this week. He's shooting one of the family statements. His camera is fibred to all pool participants' operations centers.

Lisa R writing her story for the top of the 6. This is the Bureau

Shot of the crew getting set for CTV News @ 5 with Colleen Christie. Floor Director: Jim W (seated) Gary R: Camera Colleen (back to camera) and Engineer Rob K. We also did the 6PM show from this location.

CTV National crew Correspondent: Lisa L, ENG Tec/Camera: John J, Vancouver Bureau Chief: Todd B and local CTV Tech Gary T as we get set for Lisa's hit into the CTV National News with Lloyd Robertson.

Janet and Murman, just glad that day one was over.

When the day was over I had lost count as to how many live hits we did. Most of our reporters had crash edits but all made their slots. It wouldn't be day one with out crash edits. It rained constantly and if it hadn't been for our heaters at our live locations it would have been intolerable. The hi lite of the day for me was doing a hit with Todd B into the ATV 6 PM show ( Halifax) Todd and I both worked for ATV back in the day. It was great to speak with Greg Campbell Tech Supervisor at CTV Halifax, even though it was via an IFB and coord line.

We gotta pace ourselves, this is supposed to last a year.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Trial of the Century

This promises to be a crazy week. California had the OJ trial and "Camp OJ". Here in Vancouver, more specifically New Westminister, we have the Pickton Trial and the soon to be dubbed "Camp Pickton".
For those of you not familiar with the case, Robert William Pickton is accused in the deaths and disappearances of scores of women from the downtown East Side of Vancouver. This trial he is being prosecuted on only 6 of the murders. The trial is expected to last for at least a year. It is said to be the biggest trial of it's kind in Canadian history. He is being tried by Jury.

There are something like 300 journalists accredited for this trial. They come from as far away as Germany. Needless to say all of the Canadian Networks and many representing the US networks will be here as well.

My part in all of this began a couple of days ago with a prep piece on how the Sheriffs dept is getting ready for this Trial of the Century.
Monday morning it really begins, with the first day opening remarks by both the Crown and the Defence. I will be blogging about my time on this assignment, but not about the legal or about the testimony. Hell I have no plans to be inside the court room regardless. But I do hope to give you, the reader ( and I thank you all for coming back to read the ramblings of a wanna be writer) a sense of what it is like to cover such a story.
My function will be a live position, handling CTV Newsnet, CTV National and CTV Local hits into the various shows. I spent the day today with my colleagues Dave Alexander and Gary Tapp, lighting, faxing, checking and double checking our covered camera positions just outside the courthouse doors.
It all begins for TV anyway at 3AM, pacific, the crew call for shift #1 at "Camp Pickton". Let the Drama, Begin.

I guess I should get some sleep,,,,,,,,,

Saturday, January 20, 2007

First Light

The alarm shook me out of a sound and restful sleep. I looked at the clock. It was 5:30 AM. I dragged my sorry butt up out of the covers and prepared myself for the bitter cold. We would be mounting a recovery mission from Talon base. The plan was to fly from YVR out to meet up with Flight Engineer Mike Thorneycroft, who went out ahead of us to Pitt Meadows Airport. We we to clear the machines of snow and de-ice. Then we would fly back to Base and prepare for the fine day that was expected.
We took off at first light. Kelsy Wheeler was at the controls. Brian, and Peter would round out the passenger manafest on this early morning flight.

Kelsy spools up as we prepare to depart to Pitt Meadows.

We need to get the machines back. For Talon Helicopters it's all hands on deck. All of their machines have work today. In just an hour clients would be arriving at the hanger. They would arrive en mass.
As we left via Richmond Square (Cement Plant Departure) I couldn't help but feel confident. Here I was in the back of the A Star and I am out numbered by pilots. Yes if Kelsy had the big one, there was both Brian and Peter who could land us safely. It was a strange setting to be sure.

Brian and Kelsy in the front seats as we depart over Richmond.

Peter, with coffee in hand, makes for a chatty "back seat pilot"

On approach into Pitt Meadows with both machines in full view. Mike had already began de-icing the A Star.

After dropping the three of us off, Kelsy departs back for Base. There are clients waiting and there is much flying for him to do this day.

Sun rise and Chopper 9. We would take an hour to de ice. A frozen oil line delayed us until near 10 AM.

Brian, Peter and Mike (above) begin to work on Chopper 9.

When we discovered the frozen line in Chopper 9, our efforts switched to the A Star. As this machine too was needed back at base. Mike cleans the ice buildup off the main rotors.

This shot was taken just after our return to the Hanger at YVR. We were to pick up Kink and hit the sky to catch up on the back log of shoot locations from the day before.

Kelsy long lining equipment for a client. Before the day was out he had made several trips to the drop zone. This long line work had been building up over the past weeks. Poor weather the day before spells a long day for Kelsy getting caught up.

Chopper 9 during a fuel stop at Vancouver Horbour. Flight missions that day included local ski mountians, Stanley Park recon and a trip back out to the valley for the icy road conditions.

One of the high points of the day, a fly by of the Golden Ears near Maple Ridge. I never get tired of seeing the mountians up close.

Day is done and a salute from Kink. Knowing we had a great day in the skies, skies that were clear and sunny for a change.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Odd Angry Snow Flake

"Snow ending in the afternoon. The Valley can expect up to 10-15 cm." The radio bellowed as I drove myself to the airport.
"10 to 15" I thought, damn that's twice it has snowed . I thought I moved to this coast to avoid this. One thing was for sure, weather, again would lead the cast. At least this time I'm on Chopper duty this week.

The ramp as we are about to leave on "the mission"

When I arrived at the hangar, snow crews were already clearing the runways and ramps. There wasn't too much on the ground, maybe 2-4 cm. The skies to the west and to the south looked brighter. Perhaps I would be able to salvage some quality flight time after all. Surely there would be no shortage of carnage and chaos on the roads. Easy work for a helicopter in fair skies. Yes all of the weather scribes foretold "snow ending around noon".

It had been a disappointing week thus far. Monday's skies were filled with low cloud and poor visibility. A big fat zero in the flight hours department. Tuesday was not much better, but we flew the show and at least got in the air. Here it was Wednesday and bad weather again was potentially keeping us on the ground. But the voice said "snow ending by early afternoon"

Kink and I scanned the skies. "You're right Mur, it's looking better to the west."

All of a sudden, the phone rang. This wasn't any phone, it was the land line, the Bat Phone, the red phone, well actually it a cheap cordless and it's white, but either way it was Gregg on the line.
"Chopper down, highway 1 near Abbottsford! Launch!" Gregg's voice always has a flair for the dramatic. "I'll blackberry Kink the details!"
I run downstairs to get Brian our pilot. I tell him what's up. He and the rest of the Talon gang are enjoying chat with their coffee. The group mood changes with the news. I didn't realize that Talon had a machine headed in that direction and that he had departed 40 minutes ago. The words "helicopter down" have a way of sucking the air out of any aviation company's gathering. Denise quickly called up the pilot in question. Peter answers. The downed machine in question is not one of ours.

We quickly get a code, and begin spooling up the machine. Brian our pilot says, it's not looking too good to the east, we can try, but we may have to turn around.
We launch.

"Vancouver base, Chopper 9. We are shooting Seymour, heading to the Valley."
"Roger Chopper 9, we have a lock and are tracking, tape is rolling." The voice crackles in my headset.
I let Vancouver base know that the ceiling is very low and we are attempting to follow the river to our target area. The snow has now picked up as we cross Richmond Square outbound.
Another voice from Vancouver base interrupts.
"We have reports of whiteout conditions around the target area, will you still be able to fly out and get us some pictures?"
Before I open my key to answer the obvious, we mock and laugh at the absurdity of the question.
When I open my key, I reply in a dead pan voice "Negative, we will be unable to fly in those conditions"

As we fly east past the Alex Frasier Bridge the ceiling is falling. Brian is concentrating and talking to the tower. We are giving the mission the old college try. But as we approach the Port Mann and look to the east there is a wall of cloud and snow.
"What do you guys want to do?" he says into the intercom. "We can make it for now, do you want to turn around and head back or land at Pitt Meadows. The weather is supposed to clear in a couple of hours."
It is decide that the Pitt Meadows airport is a good option so we begin our descent into Pitt. As we come in Peter's bright yellow A-Star is parked just in front of the tower. Peter is waiting out the weather here as well.
We land and secure the machine.

Kink exits Chopper 9 at Pitt Meadows. Notice the lack of snow on the ground

Pitt Meadows airport is a friendly place. It is the home base for our new rival in the sky Global's "Global One" or as we call it Chopper "eleven". The airport also has a small cafe. This is where we find Peter and his client, enjoying a sandwich.
A hot soup and a sandwich seems like a great idea as we wait out the weather. It's just about noon anyway and the weather is due to improve.

Peter and Murman waiting for that "snow ending by noon"

But the weather, well it had other ideas. The snow began to accumulate. It seemed that the "fast moving weather front" thought lunch at the Pitt Meadows airport was a good idea as well. It like the food so much that it stalled and hung over for hours.

Brian clearing flight surfaces when we still believed we would be getting out

Brian getting hit by the "odd angry snow flake" as he clears the rear stablizer

The ADIS recording said it all, " VFR- Closed- IFR Closed- Special VFR Closed- Visibility zero-zero.

Damn we are stranded.


I call the desk to let them know what's happening. Our availability for the shows, some 4 hours away might be in jeopardy. I am told the conditions down town are light snow, "the odd angry snow flake" but the sky was brightening.

One blackberry message suggested that we "Take off and fly to 1500 ft and fly west"
Ya right, the author of aforementioned message has never heard of the term "spacial disorientation." It's a term that can kill you. In a hurry. I can only hope that it was someone trying to be funny.

Pilot Brian Douglas reacts to the "message"

As we look at our watches, time and daylight is winding down. This "snow ending by noon" must mean noon tomorrow.

A second expedition is mounted from base camp to the helicopters

The temps are dropping. Brian and I go out into the blizzard to batten down the machine. I have come to the realization that the machine will be spending the night in the cold and we will be hitching a ride back to the hangar. We will mount a rescue mission at first light.

Reaching the pole, sir Brian Douglas and his team prepare the helicopter for a long cold night

Kink, thinking he can escape manual labour, is put to work clearing the snow on the terminals entrance

Kink and Capt. Douglas, glad to be headed home

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Rain Man

2007 began just as 2006 ended,,,,, wet. God if there is one thing I hate about the winters here in Vancouver it's the wet.
Moisture can be a camera guy's worst enemy. It can fog up your lens and viewfinder. It finds its way under your rain gear and worst of all it finds it way into your boots. There is nothing worse than wet feet, well except maybe, cold wet feet.

One of my first assignments back was the annual Polar Bear swim. It rained hard just before the thousands took the plunge into English Bay. But I had my foul weather sailing gear on so I stayed dry for the most part. My colleague on the other hand, well he might as well of joined the swim as he seemed soaked to the bone.
It is a condition we are becoming all to familiar with. Lately we have been battered with high winds or heavy rain or both at the same time. These conditions make it hard for you to get excited about your shift. Couple that with my 7AM start time this week, Oh did I not mention, I am not much of a morning person to begin with, and you can see the wet week was shaping up to be one I just wanted to end.

The forecast was for rain, rain and more rain,,,,, Biblical Rain. Of course you know that will mean the dreaded "Nasty Weather Story", and Tuesday's nasty weather story began just the way all of the others have before it.

"Murman, can you check out the flooding on the road,,,,,,,,"

One of the things about living in a rain forest is you know where all of the flooding hot spots will be. You might as well go park and wait for the fun to ensue.
That place is actually not far from my home, at the foot of Schoolhouse, in Coquitlam. Its at the bottom of a mountain and intersects with a major provincial highway. The traffic there is always busy. Add 6 inches of rain and oh boy we have a story.
The water collects in two low spots and in no time you have lakes that are waist high. The city closes the street, but it is such a well traveled route that either people think their cars are amphibious or they can't read. Either way, every shooter in the lower mainland knows that this is the place for pictures of motorists stalling out and stranding themselves in water up to the windows. The people who work at the Wendy's and the Cactus Club watch and cheer as people ignore the road closure and take their chances. Some like I say, get themselves stranded and wait for a tow. Most of the time it's funnier than hell. In the past people look at us with our cameras and they expect us to jump in and help. Fat chance.
This location has everything. There's a Wendy's. The parking lot there is on high ground and provides a great place to park. If you are going to be there all day, it's also handy to have hot food so close by. Across the "pond" ( street) there are business that will always give you a clip about how the city need to do something about this. One poor business owner, must be tired of seeing us, but he always invites us in as he sandbags inside his building.
It's one stop shopping, and with my storm gear on, I am dry.

But this day was to be different. As I am shooting the umteenth vehicle trying to navigate the Schoolhouse sea, along comes this Jaguar. Oh ya, this will be good. Some 4 wheel drives have been having a hard time, this should be funny.
In comes this fellow and his Jag, talking on his cell. He gets about halfway and that's as far as he gets. He's dead in the water. I'm rolling and so is my colleague Gary. How we ended up with two cameras here I don't know but our reporter appreciated it. Anyway, we are both rolling away. A large semi comes through, making a wake that proves to be too much for our stranded man in Jag. The car is tossed around like a float toy in a bath tub. Geez a Jag is a pretty expensive float toy. This went on for a few minutes.
Buddy in the car rolls his window down, and looks at me and asks for a tow. Then he tells me he is having chest pains and his arms are going numb. I can't just sit there and watch some guy have a heart attack in front of me , I have to do something. I give my camera to my Reporter and tell him to keep rolling. I jump in. When I get there the man's look in his eyes are of panic and fear.
" I am having chest pains, I was trying to drive myself to the hospital".
"OK, Please stay calm."
We Call 911.
Now I am feeling bad about laughing just a few short moments ago. I push his car to the shallow end of the pool. This way when emergency crews arrive, they will not have to get their feet wet.
Gary jumps in to lend a hand, when we get him out, we just try to keep him comfortable.
When the emergency crew arrives, they take over. I return to my camera and roll more tape.
Now I am soaked up to my hips. But what was I gonna do, nothing?

Just when I thought I had seen it all. Here's hoping for a January dry spell.