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WSOC’s chopper takes high ground in Burke manhunt

Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

WSOC’s (Channel 9) news helicopter was drafted to help in the search manhunt Wednesday for the man wanted in the killings of his parents and a U.S. Forest Service officer in Burke County.

Hickory-based reporter Dave Faherty was following the search in a rugged area of the foothills when authorities asked for assistance from Chopper 9 overhead.

“They asked us for help because they couldn’t locate the suspect,” says news director Julie Szulczewski. “We wanted to help them because it was a public safety threat.”

Andy Holt, who has been flying Chopper 9 for nearly two decades, was focusing on officers in the woods when he got the call. He landed nearby and two Burke deputies climbed aboard his six-seat helicopter.

An officer on the ground reached the slain Forest Service officer and signaled his position to the helicopter with a strobe flashlight, allowing deputies to direct others to the scene. After about 30 minutes, the State Highway Patrol helicopter arrived to continue the search for the suspect, who was ultimately killed.

“Over the years, we have helped out law enforcement as needed,” says Holt, who flew H-53 Sea Dragons while he was in the Navy.

It was Holt’s second urgent assignment over Western North Carolina in a week. On Monday, Chopper 9 got dramatic rescue footage of a National Guard helicopter crew lifting an injured mountain climber from a cliff in Linville Gorge.

Those images were sharp enough to yield detail of the operation, even though Holt was about 3/4 mile away and about 1,000 feet higher than the National Guard Black Hawk.

It was shot with a high-definition camera that has been aboard Chopper 9 for seven years. It has a power zoom lens with 84 magnification stabilized with a gyroscope. “We sometimes have to pull out to give our viewers a sense of how far away we are,” says Holt. “That camera still amazes me.”

Chopper 9 has a top speed of 120 mph and can cost upwards of $1,000 an hour to operate. Rival news helicopter pilots keep in close contact while at the same scenes, Holt says, trading weather and location information for safety.

WBTV (Channel 3) also operates a helicopter, but WCNC (Channel 36) is out of the sky for now. After being acquired by Gannett Co. in December, the station let its helicopter contract lapse.

Holt, whose wife Kim Holt is senior special projects producer at Channel 9, says he loves his job.

“That’s why I’ve been here so long. I love everything about it. It’s fun to go to work.”

Media Movers

Cassiday Proctor signs off WCCB (Channel 18) “News Edge” after a year to focus more on her work at CBS Radio with the morning “Drex and Maney Show” on WNKS-FM (“Kiss” 95.1) and sports talk WFNZ-AM (“Fan” 610). Her morning radio gig, which finds her at work around 4 a.m., and the 10:30 p.m. “Edge” show just got to be too much, says Proctor. “I’ve been getting about four hours sleep a night for the last year,” she says. “It’s been a challenge, but fun. It will be interesting to reset my body clock.” Proctor says she’s looking forward to spending more time with her husband of five months and plans to take a delayed honeymoon, possibly to the Pacific Northwest. Morgan Fogarty and Christine Noël will be filling in on “Edge” with co-host Rance Adams until a decision is made on replacing Proctor, says Jim White, WCCB’s vice president. …

“Talkers,” an industry trade publication about talk radio, ranks John Hancock’s afternoon show on WBT-AM (1110) on its “Heavy Hundred” list of leading shows nationally. It’s Hancock’s first ranking in the newsletter’s top 100. He was the only Charlotte radio personality to make the list this year. … Bill Whitaker will join the “60 Minutes” team at CBS in the fall as correspondent. Whitaker worked for WBTV (Channel 3) in the early 1980s before leaving for CBS News in Atlanta. …

On Wednesday, Susan Shikany, media specialist at Hemby Bridge Elementary School in Indian Trail, will be a contestant on “Jeopardy!” (7 p.m., WCNC, Channel 36). … Josh Grant, owner of Red Wolf Farm in Maiden, will co-host an episode of “Food Court Wars” (8 p.m. Sunday, Food Network) shot at Valley Hills Mall in Hickory. Grant provides produce for contestants in the cooking challenge. …

Amy Wiegand leaves as associate publisher of Charlotte Wedding magazine this week because she’s moving to Virginia. … Charlotte is to be featured in a story by Michael Solender in the April issue of Rejuvenate magazine, a publication serving convention and meeting planners. … WFAE-FM (NPR, 90.7) program director Dale Spear has been elected to a four-year term on the board of Public Radio Program Directors. …

WBT-AM (1110) will carry 10 Saturday night home games plus opening day and July 4 of the Charlotte Knights this season with sports director Jim Szoke doing play-by-play alongside WBT personalities. Knights games will also be carried on WZGV-AM (ESPN 730) and Rock Hill’s WRHI (1340 AM, 94.3 FM) with Matt Swierad in the booth for his 17th season. BB&T Ballpark can accommodate them all, plus the visiting team’s broadcasters; it was built with three radio booths, says Tommy Viola, Knights’ director of media relations. … WCCB (Channel 18) has decided against televising Knights games this season, but will broadcast UNC Charlotte 49er home football games again for the second season. …

“Without Perfect Answers,” a WTVI (Channel 42) documentary by independent producer Bruce Bowers, has been picked up for national distribution to public television stations beginning in April. “Without Perfect Answers” is about the Crossnore School in Avery County and challenges facing the foster care system nationally. A 2010 documentary by Bowers, “The Blue Ridge Parkway: A Long & Winding Road,” was also picked up for national broadcast by public TV stations.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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