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Fatal chopper crash during photo shoot

A photographer and videographer are killed shooting a 38-foot Skater for Powerboat magazine

A photographer and videographer are killed shooting a 38-foot Skater for Powerboat magazine

Powerboat magazine photographer Tom Newby and a videographer died and a pilot was seriously injured in a helicopter crash during a photo shoot of a 38-foot Skater off Sarasota, Fla.

Newby, 50, known for his dramatic images of offshore powerboat racing, and Mark Copeland, 44, a television videographer from Raleigh, N.C., died after the Bell JetRanger helicopter they were in crashed into the water in front of the speeding power catamaran they were filming two miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. The chopper pilot, Mark A. Watters, 44, of Pasadena, Calif., suffered a fractured leg and internal injuries, according to SarasotaCounty assistant fire chief Paul Dezzi.

The boat’s operator, Bob Teague, 59, of Valencia, Calif. — Powerboat magazine’s chief boat test driver and an American Power Boat Association Hall of Fame racer — and model Jennifer Zuknich, 28, of Sarasota were uninjured in the boat.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary investigative report shortly after the Sept. 11 accident. The NTSB says Teague and Zuknich reported the helicopter was 7 to 10 feet off the water and going about 85 mph when it dipped slightly, rose again and then fell, the front of its right skid catching the water and causing it to tumble and then “disintegrate” about 100 yards ahead and to port of the Skater. The report states that Copeland was in the chopper’s left front seat next to the pilot. Newby, the photographer, was leaning out the right rear door, shooting. Teague instinctively turned the boat to starboard, away from the crashing helicopter, and ducked as pieces of it hit the Skater. Teague then circled back to the wreck and called 911. Flying debris damaged the boat’s windshield and a sponson as Teague veered away, an industry source says.

Teague and Zuknich, also an emergency-room nurse, jumped into the water and pulled the victims away from the wreckage as it sank, says Lt. Chuck Lesaltato, spokesman for the SarasotaCounty sheriff’s office. They and a deputy, Sgt. John Jernigan, who dropped from a police chopper a little later, gave CPR until rescue boats arrived, but Newby and Copeland died after reaching shore, according to Dezzi.

The water was calm, the weather clear, and the helicopter was flying into a modest 5-mph headwind, the NTSB report says. “It was a good day for a photo shoot,” Dezzi says.

The Powerboat magazine team was in Sarasota for one of four weeklong sessions of boat tests and photo shoots that it does each year — two on the U.S. East Coast and two on the West Coast, says Dick Hendricks, executive vice president of Ehlert Publishing Group of Maple Grove, Minn., the magazine’s owner. Hendricks says the team typically tests and shoots 20 to 30 boats each session. He says they were just starting the day’s shooting when the chopper went down around 10 a.m.

Hendricks says the pilot had been doing boat photo shoots for six years, Newby had been doing them for 12 years, and Teague — the magazine’s technical editor — has driven boats for more than 20 years. “Everyone was experienced,” he says.

“The publication has been doing these [shoots] for 35 years,” Hendricks said. “We’ve never had an accident before now.”

Though Teague and Zuknich’s quick response couldn’t save the photographers, they might have saved Watters’ life, he says.

Newby was Powerboat’s chief photographer, but he also shot for more than 40 boatbuilders and did commercial photography for Toyota, Volvo America, General Motors and other corporations. Copeland, who worked for 12 years at WRAL-TV in Raleigh before embarking on a freelance career, was an Emmy Award-winning cameraman who did work for the History, Learning and Disney channels, TNN and PBS, and shot powerboats and races for American Powerboat Television and Powerboat magazine’s Web site and television show.