Monday, August 08, 2005

Reporting death

I'm never a huge fan of writing stories about death, but yet at the same time I'm intrigued by them.
I've written several in my short journalism career and it's never been easy to do, but I don't shy away from them either.
My first story was about two students murdered from my University. It was an odd story, because like most murders there wasn't much information about it. And as a reporter for a college newspaper it was difficult to get local authorities to give me much information. But I was out to get every ounce I could and probably annoyed some people along the way.
The second story was about the first soldier from Belton killed in Iraq.
I also wrote a brief story about a soldier who named Belton as home, but lived in Kentucky with his family at the time of his death.
Today I discovered a former Harker Heights resident and Fort Hood soldier was killed in a plane crash Saturday.
I debated on telling the story. It ran on the AP wire, but neither of the local papers apparently noticed or cared to run it.
But I felt differently. Here is a man who served his country and likely died of a mechanical failure in his plane.
I was sure he had some sort of ties to Harker Heights and I'm sure people would appreciate knowing. So I write...

Former Heights resident killed in Georgia plane accident
Jonathan Blundell

Former Harker Heights resident and Fort Hood officer, Col. William Powell (Ret. US Army) was killed Saturday afternoon at approximately 3:39, when his single-engine, Beechcraft 35 Bonanza went down in a field outside Trinity, Ala.
Powell was killed on impact, while the passenger on-board was seriously injured and rushed to Huntsville Hospital by helicopter.
According to witnesses, the plan was coasting at a low altitude and no engine noise was heard shortly before the accident.
“You could tell something was wrong,” witness Danny Moore of Prattville, Al told The Decatur Daily News. “The plane rolled over and went nose down, tail up. It went straight to the ground.”
Powell’s wife, Patricia, who lived with Powell in Harker Heights between 1990 and 1992, while Powell was stationed at Fort Hood, said she wasn’t sure where William may have been headed, but assumed he was taking the plane for a test flight.
“Each year he takes the plane to Decatur for its annual inspection,” Patricia said. “When he went to pick it up earlier in the week, they had found something wrong with it and he waited till Saturday morning to pick up the plane. I believe something went wrong mechanically during the test flight and that caused the accident.”
Patricia did not know the passenger, but said she was sure he was a mechanic who may have worked on the plane.
Patricia also said she believed William found something wrong after take off and turned it around to head back to the airport.
According to initial reports by the Federal Aviation Administration, the plan crashed shortly after takeoff but no cause of the accident has been released.
Butch Wilson, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board told The Decatur Daily News that the plan was still in good condition after the crash.
“The cockpit and engine area are crushed. But there was no fire and it didn’t hit any trees coming in.”
Wilson was unaware of any flight plan and also noted that the plane’s fule tanks were empty.
Investigation into the crash by the FAA and NTSB could take six months before a final report is complete.
The accident was one of eight fatal airplane related accidents in the U.S. over the weekend, including one accident Sunday in Houston.
I'm waiting to hear more from the NTSB and FAA hopefully, but the little information I pulled off the web is likely all I'll get.
I also hope I can find Powell's obit to give more of the human side of the tragedy.
What do you think? Should newspapers report death and accidents? Should local papers who normally focus on happy chearful tea parties give the same coverage to death and accidents? What do you think makes news and who should decide?

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