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“Get off the plywood” – From the Gardiner Archive

I was only one month into my probationar…

I was only one month into my probationary period at The AP in Atlanta. It was late on a Monday afternoon, Masters week in Augusta which meant the Atlanta staff was much smaller than normal. Gene Blythe, photo editor, and Joe Holloway, photographer, were in Augusta for the first day of practice.

 

I was only one month into my probationary period at The AP in Atlanta. It was late on a Monday afternoon, Masters week in Augusta which meant the Atlanta staff was much smaller than normal. Gene Blythe, photo editor, and Joe Holloway, photographer, were in Augusta for the first day of practice. Charlie Kelly was wise enough to take the week off to avoid shooting the Masters. (That’s another story.)

The day photo editor, Cathy Brooks, turned the Southeastern portion of the AP network over to me and began her trek home through Atlanta rush hour traffic.

That left me alone as the only photo staffer to manage the AP photo network of eight southern states connected to the national network through the largest ATT lease line system in the world. Every AP newspaper received photos through one of these leased lines controlled by regional bureaus like Atlanta.

It was me and one UTW technician to manage the Southern network and arrange and manage Georgia and Alabama photo coverage.

The first report of the plane crash was too brief to determine what type of plane and how many injuries or deaths. It quickly escalated to a major crash with multiple deaths.

One month on the job and I had no idea where Paulding County was or where in the county was the city of New Hope.

This was 1977. Paper maps and analog telephone lines. No Google, cell phones, no social media, and little live television coverage.

To make the story short, I called every freelancer in the Rolodex. Remember those?

Stringers closest to the crash were sent there. Photographers closest to the nearby hospitals were dispatched. I sent two photographers to the Atlanta airport. 

My second round of calls doubled coverage on all the scenes and added photographers to cover other hospitals. It was rush hour and I couldn’t be sure who might make it through traffic to any of the possible shooting locations.

Gene called to make sure I was making the right decisions and was pleased to hear that I had all the possible shooting venues covered with multiple photographers. He returned to Atlanta to coordinate the next days coverage.

The next morning I was assigned for what is called first light photos. That’s when a major event happens, such as this plane crash, a photographer is assigned to shoot at daybreak the following day to have fresh photos for afternoon papers. There was a time when the photo report for afternoon newspapers was stronger than the same days photos for morning papers.

There is little chance of me getting this close to a crash site today. Authorities close off access sometimes miles away and the only access is withe a pool photographer of some clandestine path through nearby woods and back-roads.

The angle in this photo placed parts of the main body of the jet in relationship to the nearby homes at the country crossroads where the plane crashed. I was standing on several pieces of plywood outside a set of ropes marking the crash scene. One of the men at right saw me and began to yell and wave his hands at me. I was too far away to understand his yelling and associated motions. He walked toward me with a pace marked with purpose in its speed and thrust.

When he was close enough to hear, I moved off the plywood with a “thank you” in response.

“Get off the plywood. That’s where we have the body parts.”

Oh yes, I passed probation that day. Didn’t need another two months to prove myself.

Wikipedia article about crash

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About The Author

Gary Gardiner

Former newspaper and Associated Press photographer. Instructor at Westerville Center for Photography. Owns SmallTown Stock, the Reasonably Rights Managed stock photo agency. Founder and Director for The American Scene Project, a heritage project dedicated to exhibiting and preserving photography of everyday American life.

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