To his fellow photographers around Seattle, veteran photojournalist Bill Strothman was simply a legend. But Strothman, who won 13 Emmy awards--never seemed to care about the accolades or awards as much as visually connecting viewers to the emotion of his stories. He did that for 30 years.
“He was a great photographer, but he was just a great person," said Strothman’s son Dan, who followed his father’s career path, to become an award-winning photojournalist at KOMO-TV.
"Everyone that met him, he touched them, he just had a very kind gentle soul,” said Dan Strothman, speaking publicly only hours after his father's death in a fiery helicopter crash. “He was able to find the human connection in absolutely everything he did."
Strothman retired from KOMO-TV eight years ago, but every morning he climbed into a helicopter with veteran pilot Gary Pfitzner, who was a full-time technician at Boeing. Phitzner flew choppers on a freelance basis for fun. Sometimes he flew Chopper 7 for KIRO-TV.
“He was just an addict as far as loving to fly,” said Mark Pfitzner, the younger brother of the pilot. “Even after he was retiring from Boeing, he still planned on flying forever. He just couldn't get enough of it."
KIRO-7 photographers who flew with Gary Pfitzner say he was also obsessed with safety; sometimes checking Chopper-7 for 45 minutes before a flight.
“He would crawl all over that helicopter, shaking, pulling on things to see what might be a potential problem," said veteran KIRO-7 photojournalist Tom Matsuzawa. “He was the consummate professional.”
Phitzner's family is confident that whatever caused Tuesday morning’s crash could not have been predicted--or prevented by the veteran pilot.
“I trust my brother with my life,” said Mark Phitzner. “I know that if he thought there was any type of mechanical problem beforehand, he would've never taken it off the ground."
Colleagues say the crash claimed two master visual storytellers--one using flight-- the other using a lens.
“If you're going to go, it's always best to do what you love the most, I guess," said Mark Phitzner.
“He made an impact in the world,” said Dan Strothman about his father. “The impact will live forever."