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Geoff Fisher BCTV … I Never Forget

February 12th, 2018 · 10 Comments

(This is an updated version of a post I wrote on this Blog in 2009.   Time to pause …and remember.)

It’s hard to believe it has already been 19 years … Feb 13, 1999  since Geoff Fisher was killed. And I came the closest ever to death during my 38-year journalistic career.

Geoff was a BCTV microwave truck/camera operator. And it was on the morning of this day ten years ago that Geoff was setting up the BCTV microwave truck outside Delta Secondary School so I could do a “live hit” into the Noon News, when something went tragically wrong.

The microwave mast atop the truck accidentally contacted a 14.4 kv Hydro line above, and Geoff was electrocuted. Witnesses reported a large bang … and power for several blocks around was cut … but only briefly.

What many people did not … and still do not know … is that many Hydro lines have a built in re-start sequence that is triggered about a minute after an initial failure, in case the line breach was caused by a bird or squirrel etc.

And so the power returned, again striking Geoff, who was laying on the ground, his foot still touching the truck.  The power arc, I understand, would have spread through the ground as much as thirty feet.  Had I or anyone been immediately close by and rushed over to help … before someone could shout to stay away… the results would have been even more tragic.

But I was saved that day … in a way I still don’t quite understand and sometimes find difficult to think about.

Punctuality was always a hallmark of my career: when assigned to a story on location, I had a penchant for always arriving early, allowing lots of time for traffic or parking problems, to scope out the site, talk to people behind the scenes to get some extra information or get a prime reporting or camera spot for our story.

That day, I just couldn’t get going! It was a Saturday … a usually fairly relaxed news day for me and I was not expecting to have to do a “hit” for the Noon News,  so when I checked in with my office by phone at 9 a.m., I hadn’t even finished breakfast or showered yet.

“Head to Delta Secondary,” I was told, to cover a day-long event surrounding some issue I have already forgotten, and do a live broadcast into the Nooner with an invited guest they had already arranged.

I hurriedly finished breakfast, grabbed a shower, dressed and headed out …. but traffic on Oak Street and Highway 99 was unusually high for a Saturday mid-morning. I was clearly running late … late enough to phone the guest and apologize and assure him I was on the way and would get there a.s.a.p.

But I remember being embarrassed: that was “not” me: I was always early and I was hurrying, even speeding where I could to get to Delta Secondary.

But just before I  drove by the Ladner London Drugs mall … the lights went out …traffic lights, all the store lights in the London Drugs mall and nearby shops as well.  I alerted my office by phone to the problem and possible additional story.

Little did I know of the tragedy that awaited me a few blocks away.

I know had I been on site, I would have been standing right near Geoff, suiting up with microphone and earpiece and if not struck myself by the power burst would certainly have rushed over to help .. totally unaware of the Hydro “restart” mechanism.

All I could do when I arrived was watch …. and then, with a second cameraman, John M. , who had been inside the school doing some shooting,  and had the strength to videotape the accident scene outside when he emerged … knowing it could become very important evidence in any ensuing investigation.  We also both had the presence of mind to interview witnesses immediately to get their recollection of what happened on record, along with their names and, in this case, their phone numbers as well.

I also did the story for that night’s Newshour!!!  My most horrible day on the job, ever. But I wanted to do the story … for Geoff.  And working with my close friend and editor, Karl A., we did our job.

We edited in an edit suite, with a sheet covering the glass doors to prevent prying eyes and Karl would not even let me see all the footage John had taken. He edited the segments together, using only the most general photos,  and only then had me turn around to record my script.

But we all did our jobs and our story, as I believe Geoff would have wanted us to do.

That night, as I spent the evening with friends, it really hit me that Geoff was no more, and how close I had come, in an instant, to losing my own life. It was all very surreal .. just driving home and watching everyone going about their “usual” Saturday night.

Meanwhile, what had caused me to be so unusually tardy in waking that day, getting ready for work and delayed me from making it to my assignment I still do not understand.

But I never forget Geoff Fisher …. and remember him often, not just on Feb. 13, when everyone should think about the sacrifice too many pay, around the world, to bring us the news coverage are so often taken for granted.

Harv Oberfeld

(PS. Geoff’s photo hangs in the hall of the Editing suites at BCTV-Global.  I hope that all those who work there will pause in front of it today … and spend a moment remembering our colleague and the price he paid to bring BC viewers the news.)

Tags: British Columbia · Media · Private Notes

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 G. Barry Stewart // Feb 12, 2018 at 9:19 am

    A touching memorial piece, Harvey.

    It is so immobilizing when a friend, colleague or family member dies unexpectedly. I suspect you all were working on “muscle memory” to get through the day.

  • 2 13 // Feb 12, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Harvey its good to remember co workers that have passed away. To many and usually to early. Coworkers that died on the job are especially difficult.
    One fellow dies in his truck on Annacis Island. He died on a Friday and was not discovered until Saturday by a security guard.
    Another co worker crashed his truck in the Fraser Canyon . He survived the crash and was talking to the RCMP when he dropped dead. Yet another co worker was driving through the Rogers Pass area and a large boulder hit his truck which wound up in a lake. He drowned.
    RIP Norm , Brian and Tony.

  • 3 Rocker Rich // Feb 12, 2018 at 11:15 am

    This is quite likely the finest copy you have ever filed. It is at once gripping and evocative in describing the tragic event, the demands of your job and the loss of a trusted colleague. Geoff Fisher comes alive through this tribute. Bless you, Harvey.

  • 4 Gene the Bean // Feb 12, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    I remember that day.
    The coverage was poignant and very real, Somewhat painful to watch, not just for the tragedy of it all but because we all knew what everyone at the station was going through.

  • 5 BMCQ // Feb 12, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Thank you for this Harvey!

    As horribly sad as the incident was You have have done a beautiful job of illistrsting what you and your colleagues experienced that day.

    Obviously it is something that you think of often and I am quite sure the family of Mr Fisher very much appreciate your salute to their loved one very much.

    A tragic event but just the same Written with grace and respect, everyone that reads this will benefit greatly one way or another.

    I remember this story as well, it is important you reminded us.

    As WARREN Zevon once said, “Make sure you enjoy every Sandwich”!

  • 6 Island Lookout // Feb 12, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    TERROR ON THE GROUND AND IN THE CLOUDS

    I also remember that day, Harvey.

    I heard about it only on CKNW. I did not get to see the TV news report.

    However, a former CBC colleague told me the details days later and what a horrible scene that awaited you.

    It is best that all of Mr. Fisher’s former colleagues, and those new ones now working at Global TV BC, also keep remembering and look at his photo outside that editing suite.

    DANGEROUS TERRITORIES

    This terrible tragedy also points out the often very dangerous circumstances that face many Vancouver news media hounds and their camera crews as they dash about the province covering the news.

    I expect no viewers even bat an eyelash when they see a Vancouver-based reporter doing a stand-up in some small town deep in the Fraser Canyon or on the wasteland near Ashcroft where a forest fire has just blown through.

    Viewers don’t know that the reporter and camera operator likely took a small helicopter out of Vancouver, through the Fraser Valley, Fraser Canyon/Thompson Canyons to Ashcroft, the Cariboo, or eastward to Roger’s Pass or the Rockies to “get the story” wherever it was happening.

    How was the weather? The visibility? Was the pilot good or a dud?

    Too many British Columbians who regularly consume TV news have no appreciation of just how dangerous our mountain and forest scenery can be to mere mortals pressing along in their flying machines.

    Therefore they have no clue just how frightening some of our “majestic” scenery can be if you’re jousting crammed into a raucous Bell 206 four-seat helicopter bouncing through cloudy turbulence with a 4-thousand foot high rock face within touching distance as you tumble about.

    I know. I’ve been there as a passenger. Terrifying doesn’t near describe it.

    “WAR” STORY

    I remember a former CBC camera operator colleague who, with his reporter, producer and the pilot, set off from Vancouver one gloomy winter day in a small twin-engined aircraft to cover a story in Kelowna.

    Over the mountains the pilot, very young and with a brand new commercial licence but no instrument rating, lost his way, then LOST IT. He couldn’t do a thing. He panicked.

    The plane was socked in, heavy clouds and turbulence, and no one aboard could see a thing outside.

    Hooped…

    Except…

    The cameraman, obviously after the flight, told me he grabbed the radio mike, and sent a Mayday distress call.

    Moments later the captain of a Boeing 737, flying thousands of feet above him, interrupted his Vancouver-bound flight with its passengers aboard, diverted off course and “escorted” the small Cessna safely over the 10-thousand foot high mountains and down into the Okanagan Valley and safety.

    The cameraman told me back in Vancouver that he “had words” with the CBC staffer who in utter ignorance booked that small plane. Bad move. Those were words I would have loved to hear! But he didn’t tell me those.

    Harvey, I’m betting you have a few “chopper war stories” to tell. A book needs to be written. Now would be good.

    ONE MORE YARN

    As an aside I have another aviation story to tell.

    In January 1968, I had a commercial pilot’s licence and was building hours to get a job.

    On the 10th of January a Vancouver Airport flying school student colleague of mine got the chance to fly a brand new twin-engined Cessna 310 to Edmonton, to build up his hours.

    The student pilot, and two others aboard including the plane’s owner (also a pilot)took off from Vancouver and never made it to Edmonton.

    A couple of days later I volunteered to be a “spotter” aboard another twin-engined Cessna also out of Vancouver.

    After refuelling in Kamloops we took off for the prospective search area over Roger’s Pass.

    It was mucky and cold, didn’t see a thing.

    Then one of our two engines quit.

    We staggered back to Kamloops where temporary repairs were made and then it was back into the search.

    We flew all the way to Red Deer, Alberta, didn’t see a thing, refuelled then returned to Vancouver exhausted and very cold.

    The missing plane was found…38 years later on the western slope of the Rockies, in a box canyon, nowhere near where we had been looking for it.

    Of course there were no survivors.

    (Response: People often don’t know what goes on behind the scenes: I can remember more than once flying (or I should say being banged around)in storms over or what sometimes seemed to be through the mountains on chartered party planes…including once a DC 3 (not very high) … during election campaigns when party leaders HAD to get to a number places/rallies in one or two days. And one time, in a non-political assignment … working a weekend shift, they had me drive up to near Whistler to cover the extraction of the remains of Selena Sung whose car had been missing for months and was found hanging on the side of a cliff above a canyon. Not my usual beat! And things ran very late…so BCTV sent a chopper to pick me up with what I had “so far”… but the chopper ran into trouble on its way to get me and had to make an emergency landing. Oops! I was glad it didnt happen later, while carrying me OVER the mountains on the way directly to BCTV!! But we did get the tape and me back …. a taxi came from Squamish, picked me up…and drove me to Burnaby…and we did the story … without the viewers knowing anything had gone awry. h.o)

  • 7 Keith // Feb 14, 2018 at 9:44 am

    Hi Harvey,

    I’ve never lost a coworker in tragic circumstances so can’t imagine how it feels. I reread this a couple of times and found it quite difficult, thanks for sharing what must have been hard one write.

    (Response: You NEVER forget your co-worker in a case like that … or how close you too came to almost certain death. So I remember the day, the tragedy …and Geoff …wherever I am, even when enjoying a day in Florida or out at sea on a cruise ship. h.o)

  • 8 BMCQ // Feb 14, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    Thank you Harvey.

  • 9 Nicholas // Feb 16, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you for posting this, Harvey. Geoff was a really nice guy, a co-worker and a friend. It was a real tragedy that he died at such a young age. I still recall the sickening feeling of learning that he had passed away. At the time, it had been two years since I’d left the newsroom but I had worked on that same truck. It made me realize how much we take for granted with respect to our day-to-day lives. Geoff may be gone but I’ll always remember the friendly guy with a passion for sunglasses and sushi.

    (Response: Thanks Nicholas. I remember working together back then. :) I hope no one forgets Geoff or the price he paid as part of his job in the news business. I certainly do not. h.o.)

  • 10 e.a.f. // Feb 16, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    I remember when that happened. Nice article. Its good to remember those who died on the job.
    Thanks you for remembering.