National News

Ex-WRAL Photographer 1 of 2 Killed in Helicopter Crash

Posted September 11, 2007 12:23 p.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2007 7:47 p.m. EDT

— 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.