In My World, All Helicopter Stories Would be Uplifting

So a helicopter crashed at work today.

I work under the shadow of the Space Needle; they are on the same block as my coffee shop.  From what I understand, a traffic helicopter took off, suffered some malfunctions, and then crashed down onto a few cars.  The people in the cars got out but the two people in the helicopter died.

If you are looking for the inside scoop, I do not have it.  I do not personally know anyone that was involved in the crash, but the newscasters have always been kind and friendly when they stop in for coffee.  If you are looking for photographs depicting the fiery explosion, you will not find those here.  What it is like to work next to this sort of catastrophe?  There are two areas that bother me about the event so let us talk about those.

First off, I am dismayed at how much of a tempting spectacle the crash was.  As I understand it, the event happened around 7:30 Tuesday morning.  Now, Tuesday is the slowest of all days.  Museums close on Tuesdays in March due to lack of crowds.  On a normal morning like this I might see one or two people milling about every five minutes.  Today was distinctly different.  For at least an hour there was a steady stream of folks walking about.  They were all headed towards the Space Needle to see what happened.  Smart phones were being passed back and forth, presumably with pictures or videos on them; pocket- sized galleries of destruction.

While I was at the coffee shop, reporters from three different regions were calling to try to find some comment.  I have nothing against news people doing their job.  If those people want to go out and tell the story for the folks they are paid to inform, then I understand that.  It is when folks go and look simply because they have a morbid need to “experience it” that I feel disappointed.  It seemed like people wanted to go look at a Michael Bay movie being filmed.  They wanted to see a wreck.  Also, and while I would rather not believe this, I think part of them wanted to see a body or two.  I offer that it is human nature.

Last Wednesday I was driving down the highway and the sea of cars was rather slow to move.  As soon as we passed the accident on the side of the road, the flow of cars went back to normal.  After people had rubber-necked, they were quite eager to speed up again.  They wanted to see the carnage.  I know, because I looked too.

I try to take a stroll during my lunch break, but did not today.  I was afraid of the temptation to walk over and be a spectator to the tragedy.  However, this morning I know that two men are dead, and one of them is the father of a man I went to high school with.  My schoolmate turned work-neighbor is going through something I would not wish on anyone.

One thing that I will never forget from college was a Communications professor talking about a mob.  The gathering (I am pretty sure it was in Chicago, but it might have been New York) turned loud and violent.  In the center, a series of men raped a woman.  A photographer got a shot of it and the pictures were published.  The instructor told us that they were not going to show us the photos, but if we wanted to look they were very easy to find.  I did not want to look, and did not, mostly because of how eagerly part of me wanted to.

The same principle applies here.  I am just as human as the other looky-loos.  I wanted to see something I had never seen in real life, something exciting.  However a very strong, very large part of me knew that I really should not see it.  I feel that one can be informed without knowing all the gory details.

Can you imagine what it would be like for the helicopter pilot’s family?  What if you were a relative, you drove to the scene as distraught as you will ever be, and you find a crowd around your loved one’s corpse?  And the crowd is not there to help; the fire is already out.  No, you are there to see show.

I cannot do that to a person, especially not when I know one of them. Today my respect for a person’s death was stronger than my yearning to go out of my way to see something gruesome.  However, since I am human, I cannot guarantee that I will not seek out a moment of chaos to add excitement to my life on another given day.

In addition to the matter of spectacle, there is a disappointment that I am still dealing with.  Comics are my go-to escapism.  When I have had an exceedingly long day at work, when life turns dark and I have to continue serving people and act charming, I go for the sci-fi.  I come home, encourage my cat to sit on my lap, and I read comics or watch a movie.  And in Superman:  The Movie?  We all know what happens; Superman catches the news helicopter.  The reporter is saved.  The landing works.  All it needed was a flying man to save the day.

I did not get my flying man today.  In my world, nobody gets hurt.  In the real world, we have death.  Green Lantern does not slow the fall with a giant emerald pillow.  Wonder Woman does not pull on the tail and lower it to the ground with her lasso.  Spider-Man does not create a series of webs to stop the descent.  Firestorm does not change the molecules in the air into cushioning foam and Superman is nowhere to be seen.

That reality kills me.  I want there to be a man more powerful than us that swoops in and saves the day.  I say that fully believing in God, but I want brightly clad heroes, darn it.  Science keeps surprising us and I really do think miracles happen.  There is a large part of me that is waiting for a day when a friendly stranger appears and gives us a reason to look up again.   Perhaps if I wait long enough, there will be a flying man that zooms by and gives us new reason for to look above the street level and turn to the sky.

Tuesday was not an easy day.  People died.  Coworkers were shaken.  There was awkwardness in the air as people tried to talk about something else when there was only one thing on their mind.  And yes, some insensitive twerp complained about being late to work.  I was glad to leave it all behind and come home.  Yet I realize that I can leave much of it at work while the victims’ loved ones and colleagues will have the memory with them for much, much longer.

It is important to bestow many thanks to the dozens of emergency vehicles that showed up.  Again, I did not see but I can certainly imagine.  In addition, thanks to those that called for help and who are giving testimony to the authorities so the matter can be wrapped up that much sooner.  I hope the experience goes down easy.  It was hardly a terrorist attack, but I think the folks that unwillingly witnessed it should be allowed some extra compassion in the next few days.

With all those weighty matters presented, what say you?  Would you have gone and looked?  Do you see any harm in taking photos of what is clearly a newsworthy moment?  Do you think chronicling an accident like this keeps their memories alive?  What do you say to a friend who loses a father in this way?  How does one report on the death of your coworkers?  How do you recover when life becomes far too serious?

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About anecdotaltales

He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.
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2 Responses to In My World, All Helicopter Stories Would be Uplifting

  1. aimee says:

    Hey Phil, thanks for your words on this. It’s something I’ve been learning about for a long time. I had my first lesson when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. We were in a car accident just a block from our house. It wasn’t too bad and we all got out okay – it looked worse. My sister and I were shakily walking to our house while my mom dealt with the police, etc. Crowds of people were starting to arrive, and I heard some guys running up wonder aloud if there were any bodies… dead people…carnage. They seemed excited about it, like it would be the coolest thing. Hey! That’s me you’re talking about jerk! I didn’t say anything, but I’ve never forgotten that moment.
    Last summer we had a wind storm and there was a lot of damage. An enormous tree fell on the house of a friend. I know a house isn’t a person, but I think it can come close. I stood there with my friend and witnessed car after car drive by, stop, roll down their window, stick a camera/phone out to take a picture, then drive off. I yelled at one of them. Person after person turning her deep pain and agony into mere spectacle. I never took one picture of her house. How could I?
    Yes, we’re all rubber-neckers and looky-loos by nature. But I think personal experiences like this will help us to be more respectful when we do look and attach humanity to these disasters. If only we can look on something like this with compassion and grief, instead of excitement and spectacle. That would be something.

    • Agreed. Jedidiah mentioned going to a site to pray for people, and that I can get behind. But there are (in my opinion) plenty of photographs of tragedy already. I don’t need to add to them “just because”.

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