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2 killed in KREM crash

May 6, 1985

Victims known as pros to friends, co-workers

By Bill Morlin
Spokane Chronicle

They died doing the jobs they loved.

Television photojournalist Gary Brown and helicopter company owner Cliff Richey were lifting off under a bright blue sky Sunday to film the Bloomsday race from the air.

Fiery tragedy struck in the parking lot of KREM-TV when the rotor blade of the Hughes 500D helicopter struck a television tower guy wire, about 60 feet off the ground.

It was the first tragic event associated with the nine-year history of Bloomsday.

Richey, a highly decorated Vietnam copter pilot, was a fill-in for Dale McCormick, who flies Chopper 2, owned by Price Airmotive.

“I was set up to fly it, early on, about three weeks ago,” said McCormick of the Bloomsday assignment.

McCormick, 38, said he was grounded by a flight surgeon who had prescribed a medication for a skin infection. On Friday, the TV station made arrangements for Richey’s company, Spokane Helicopter Service, to handle the assignment.

McCormack had logged dozens of hours with Brown, 28, and his camera, including spectacular aerial footage of 1983 and 1984 Bloomsdays.

The Chopper 2 pilot said he has landed in the parking lot’s northeast corner, not far from the crash site, hundreds of times.

Richey didn’t put his craft down in exactly the same spot, said Jeff Burke, the station’s operations engineer, who saw the landing on a security camera monitor.

While Brown loaded his equipment in the helicopter, Burke said he briefly took his eyes off the monitor to shut off a piece of equipment.

“When I looked back up, the whole monitor was full of flame,” he recalled. “I didn’t know what happened; then I realized the helicopter had crashed.”

He called the 911 emergency number, but it was too late for Brown and Richey.

Their bodies, burned beyond recognition, were taken to Ball & Dodd Funeral Home, where funeral arrangements were pending today.

McCormick said he “just couldn’t make myself” visit the crash site.

“If I could have been there, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said Sunday evening, his voice breaking. “That’s the way you feel. It crosses your mind.”

His sadness was expressed by others who knew Brown as a humble, quiet, conscientious professional who had won numerous awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.

His awards included second place in 1981 for spot news reporting of the Bunker Hill shutdown and a 1983 award for excellence in photography for a story about a wagon train.

“Gary was doing what he loved to do, and that was covering news,” said KREM news anchor Dennis May as he walked away, head bowed, from the fire-blackened crash site.

Richey, 49, likewise, was a pro.

He had hundreds of hours of flying helicopters.

He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Air Medal while an Army chief warrant officer in Vietnam in 1966.

He opened his helicopter business in 1971 and later did flying for Washington Water Power Co., the Forest Service and crop dusting work.

Richey, born in Albuquerque, N.M., is survived by his wife, Mildred; three children, Shannon, Sherry and Cliff Jr.; three stepchildren, Billy, Jimmy and Margaret Evers; and two brothers and two sisters, Johnny Richey of Detroit, Willie Richey of Spokane, Lorraine Pearce of Hawaii and Sandra Richey of Spokane. He also has four grandchildren.

His parents, John and Rosie Richey, live in Spokane.

“He on several occasions had volunteered his equipment and his time to provide police officers the opportunity to train in and around a helicopter,” said Police Sgt. Robbin Best, who knew Richey.

In the station’s newsroom, there were a lot of tears as 10 photographers and reporters returned from covering Bloomsday and learned the grim details.

“We always hear about this kind of thing happening, but it’s always somewhere else,” said weather anchor Shelly Monahan.

“I don’t think it’s hit us yet,” she added, her voice trailing off.

News director Jan Allen said the station’s chief photographer “was a creative and imaginative photographer as well as a wonderful human being.”

“Gary could just tell the whole story with pictures,” she said. “With him, you didn’t need words.”

Photojournalist Ed Springer, who hired Brown to work for KREM, gazed at the crash that darkened the otherwise joyous day for the working press.

“He had a true love for his job and always aspired to be one cut above everyone else,” said Springer, now a photographer for KHQ-TV.

Brown, who attended Shadle Park High School and Eastern Washington University, worked part time for KHQ and KTVB-TV in Boise before joining KREM in March 1979.

He and his wife, Lynn, had a daughter, Leslie, Allen said.

As the station’s chief photographer, Brown essentially pulled rank and assigned himself to again handle the aerial coverage, his colleagues explained.

Photographers regard that assignment as the “coup de grande,” said Springer, himself a veteran aerial photographer.

“You can’t hear the screams and yells up there,” he said, “but you can feel the spirit of Bloomsday in a unique way.”

“It’s always a rush to look out from the helicopter and see all those people…”

Monday, May 6, 1985

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From → KREM

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