May 3, 2010

Final approach

Getting there in time for the helicopter landing did not matter and I knew it. And later, with the hours tallied up and the beer cans and wrappers and one black shoe scooped back into the cracked maroon pickup truck, the whirling of those blades fit in the story only by shoehorn.

But when the pilot's voice delivered her estimate of "six minutes to arrival," I didn't want to do the math. Eight miles out, country roads to navigate, and my willingness to "rush" only at 7 over the speed limit didn't bode well.

The medical helicopter was late. Must have been. Because I saw its light beam circling the sky as I entered the rural portion of the pursuit.

254 ... left on 7-0- ... 8? 708 Miss Phillips Lane ... Right on 703. [map]

Less than a mile away; the pilot asking again about wires and structures. My brights show me a steep green embankment to my left and a farm field dropping to the right.

"Final approach," came her voice one last time (I thought), and without a crackle. Then the blades were above me. It didn't sound like a helicopter would sound. Just pounding wind, I thought.

Then I stopped behind a firetruck, near tall grass and a wire fence and jumped from the car to catch the chopper coming down. An ambulance pulled forward. Doctors dismounted the chopper knee-deep in green. They rolled a stretcher to the ambulance and everyone waited.

Without all those other reporters around I felt mean and invasive with the camera around my neck. I wore jeans and yellow T-shirt from when I was 12. Nervous about the darkness and all the whirling reds, I pulled the camera to my eye often to take pictures of the stretcher just sitting there. When a woman in plain shorts and a tank top was handed a reflective vest and stood near to the ambulance I got back in my car, still felt too visible while the interior light remained on, and hoped I wouldn't miss whatever it was that might happen.

Twenty minutes or more and then "requesting permission to cease efforts" came across the scanner.

I drove onward, two miles to find trucks of all sizes and the one that mattered: the one with big wheels flipped to its side. Firefighters in casual T-shirts and dull overalls shared what they could.

I watched misty lines of drizzle sparkle in the sky, yellow white red, snapshots from all the rotating lights and mirrors.

A wrecker driver later jump-started my car, long drained dead by my hazard lights. Home by 4, story by 6, and sleep.

I wondered later that day, at 10 and 12 and 2: If a car crashes and only one reporter covers it, did it happen? But soon others had and we all knew about Danny Alphonso Brown. He sang so well on "She's a Killer," a song with an unfair word in its title.

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