National News

Ex-WRAL Photographer 1 of 2 Killed in Helicopter Crash

Posted September 11, 2007

— A helicopter carrying three people shooting video for a boating magazine crashed in the Gulf of Mexico near Sarasota on Tuesday, killing two of the people aboard. One of those who died was a former WRAL-TV photographer, Mark Copeland, 44.

The helicopter went down in about 20 feet of water around 10 a.m., said Sarasota County Fire Department Assistant Chief Paul Dezzi.

Copeland worked at WRAL for 12 years before starting his own business as a freelance photographer in 1999.

"He absolutely loved the news business," WRAL-TV anchor David Crabtree said of Copeland. "Whether it was breaking news, a hurricane, covering a war or a local fire, Mark always got the pictures."

Shortly before the crash, the helicopter had been flying close to a boat that the crew was videotaping, but it wasn't clear what caused it to go down, sheriff's Lt. Chuck Lesaltato said.

"One witness said the helicopter came close the water and somehow flipped," Lesaltato said. "Debris from the helicopter hit the boat."

Copeland, of Raleigh, and Thomas Newby, 50, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., were pronounced dead after arriving on shore, a sheriff's official said. Helicopter pilot Mark A. Watters, 44, of Pasadena, Calif., was listed in serious condition at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

The boat operator and a model onboard the vessel were unhurt. Dezzi said the model, a nurse whose name was not immediately released, jumped in and kept the men afloat as rescue boats from more than half a dozen agencies responded.

"She dove right there into the fuel and was able to get a couple of guys out," he said. The men were brought ashore on police boats.

Dick Hendricks, executive vice president of Powerboat magazine's parent firm, Maple Grove, Minnesota-based Ehlert Publishing Group, said the magazine had several employees and freelance contractors in the area working on a weeklong series of boat tests.

The crash occurred south of Sarasota about two miles off a southwest Florida barrier island.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have been called in to investigate.


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  • dukevoice Sep 12, 2007

    As one who was blessed to have the opportunity to work with Mark on many occasions on the Duke Coaches' TV Shows, I was heartbroken when I learned of his tragic death. So many glowing remarks have been posted and they all ring true to his personality, his professionalism, his wit, and his desire to always do the best job possible, even under 'less than desirable' circumstances some times. Mark was a true professional. He was a videographer who could make everyone feel comfortable in front of the camera. His drive for the very best shots made everyone feel like they were the most important person on the earth, and this shoot was the most important. That is a rare quality. That was my friend, Mark Copeland. He will never be forgotten. God bless the immediate family and the extended families who worked with him and who now miss him so much. God be with you, Mark.

    Bob Harris
    Voice of the Blue Devils

  • auklet8718 Sep 12, 2007

    I'm very sorry to hear of Marks passing. I knew him through my other friends there at the station. Lots of sadness with this news for sure. He will be missed by many.

  • Sep 12, 2007

    Cope, we will miss seeing the world through your eyes.

    The Photographers Prayer (unknown author)

    Oh God, as I bring my subject into focus and prepare to make each Portrait, never let me forget that I'm creating treasures for some family, a keepsake for loved ones...
    Make me sensitive to the qualities and virtues of others, that I may draw out into the light, the beautiful radiant belongings of their hearts....

    Help me Oh Lord, to be an artist, collecting the beauty of every soul, the glow of youth, the wisdom of age, the gentleness, the laughter or tears of each life that is precious in thy sight...

    Deeper than a means of livelihood, give me the perspective to see my photographer's art as a service to others, making life richer and more memorable....

    And, Dear Lord, between the lights and shadows, the ups and downs and the rolling years, keep me from getting out of focus or off center, so that my life and work may be framed with dignity and colored with contentment...


  • Shiger Sep 12, 2007

    Copie, you are true professional and we will miss you. When I watch your work, how lucky I am to be able to see the world through your eyes.

  • jjennings Sep 12, 2007

    We'll miss you, Copie. You're the best.

  • shine Sep 12, 2007

    This is a devastation for alot of people... I didn't know Mark but reading the post inspires me of all of the great caring people there are wherever they are posting from. It is friends like you that knew him that will be able to comfort his family it is friends like us that didn't know him only can pray for them and wish they have peace.

  • packandcanesfan Sep 12, 2007

    Prayers to all his family and friends. Hearing the endearing comments makes me wish I had had the priviledge to know him. :(

  • WardofTheState Sep 12, 2007

    Such a tragic loss. Condolences for your friend and co-worker.

  • bbvoiceover Sep 12, 2007

    The Copius One is a legend. Mark could do the impossible, make it look great and still make deadline.

    You're the man, Mark. I'm honored to call you a friend.

  • Mrs. Fabulous Sep 12, 2007

    My thoughts and prayers are with the Copeland family.