Fatal Helo Crash Takes Out TV Signal

Four soldiers died in Georgia on the morning of June 1 during a helicopter training mission when their aircraft crashed after clipping the guy wires of a TV tower.

Colquitt County Sheriff's Department dispatcher Becky Perry told news wires the chopper went down just after 8 a.m. local time near the Southern Georgia community of Doerun, location of a 1,000-foot tower used by Fox affiliate WFXL in Albany. An engineer at the tower site reported seeing the chopper clip the tower guy wires before it went down.

Station Manager Deborah Owens said later it appeared as if the chopper blade hit the tower as well "because a chunk of it's gone" at around 900 feet.

The station, which normally transmits its analog signal on Channel 31, went off the air as a result of the crash. It left the tower with a noticeable tilt, Owens said.

"Our engineer was here at the studio and realized that the meter readings were going haywire, so he shut down the transmitter," she said. "He was on his way out there when we heard about the helicopter."

By 9 p.m., WFXL News Director Terry Graham said, "There's a crew on the scene... Hopefully, they can build a makeshift antenna so we can at least get UHF operations up again."

The following morning, Owens said David Stiles of Procom Towers Inc. in Chattanooga, Tenn. was on site assessing the damage. Representatives from Raycom Media, owner of WFXL and sister station WALB, were also on site.

"We're waiting on a structural engineer to get here, to do a structural analysis," Owens said. "We're hoping to hear something from the tower crew before the end of the day. It's possible we could put a temporary antenna up at WALB, which has a tower next to us... it's possible we could go that route, depending on whether they had any damage to their guy wires."

Owens estimated that over-the-air reliance in the WFXL coverage area to be around 20 percent. She said the signal was still being picked up by most cable and DBS subscribers, except for those on some outlying cable systems.

"We're working them to see if they can pick up our DT signal," she said. WFXL's digital stick is on a different tower, transmitting on Channel 12.

Officials were uncertain of the cause of the collision, and whether or not the helo was in trouble before it clipped the wires. The aircraft was said to be en route from Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah to Fort Rucker, Ala., the home of an Army helicopter training school. A fifth crew member survived the crash and was released from the hospital the same day, Owens confirmed.