Photographers' Blog

Trading fear for photos on a stricken plane

We took off smoothly for the short flight from Singapore to Jakarta, and I started falling asleep. Suddenly I was woken up by the sound of two bangs, like a bomb or truck tire blowing out. My wife gripped my hand and asked “Do you smell something burning?” Yes, there was a sharp smell stinging my nose. I realized there was something wrong because all the stewardesses ran back with the food carts.

The plane started to vibrate, harder and harder. I held my wife’s hand tightly and looked at her face as she started praying. My two younger children were asleep, after their first ever trip abroad, but not Pradipta, the eldest one. “Pra look through the window and watch outside,” I said. “I see light, I see fire, I see fire,” he said. Then the electricity was switched off.

I realized the plane, an Airbus A330, had a big problem. I was afraid because I thought we would die. Pradipta looked into my eyes and asked: “Will we die?” I was afraid and could not answer the question. I looked at all my children’s faces and held my lovely wife’s hands tightly.

During my many years of assignments as a Reuters photojournalist, when flying I have imagined being on a plane that had a problem that forced an emergency landing, and then taking pictures. But I never imagined this situation with my family. But it happened. We will die together, so we can fly to heaven together, I thought. If we die together, I will not miss my wife’s delicious cooking, I will not miss the smell of my kids’ sweat. There will be no tears among us. My thoughts, to my surprise, stopped me being afraid any more.

“Will we die?” Pradipta asked again. I looked into his eyes, held his hand tightly and said: “No, we’re alive, we’re still alive,” then I gave him a high five just as if we were playing basketball.

Witness to a cobblestone crash

I am writing this on the road from rural eastern France at the end of the fourth stage of the month-long Tour de France. It’s hot and dusty outside with temperatures at about 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). On the backs of the motorcycles in protective gear we are suffering as we spend all day in the sun. Fortunately there has been a lot happening in these early stages of the Tour and the images have been worth it.

On the third stage of the Tour between Wanze in Belgium and Arenberg in France, I was riding on the second of our two motorcycles. The second bike is not authorized to shoot the riders on the move, but instead can overtake the pack and then stop on the side of the road so the photographer can shoot the riders as they pass by. The third stage was very special as the last 50 kilometers were on the famous cobblestone backroads of northern France more commonly associated with the Paris-Roubaix cycling classic. This section is known as the “Hell of the North”. I have covered 21 Tour de France races, but never had the occasion to cover either Paris-Roubaix, nor shoot a cobblestone section.

RadioShack's Lance Armstrong cycles on a cobblestone sector during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Wanze and Arenberg-Porte Du Hainaut, July 6, 2010. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Early in the stage, while listening in to the official two-way radio commentary, the race directors announced that all the motorcycles must travel directly to the arrival site bypassing this cobblestone sector at the end of the race because it was simply too narrow and too dangerous for everyone to work. Only a one-motorcycle pool would be authorized access. So, I took a chance and sped way ahead of the race. Our motorcyclist got the bike onto the cobblestone section and safely parked the bike off the road well before the race drew near. The day had been terribly hot and the impenetrable dust cloud thrown up from the accompanying official vehicles gave an aura of a foggy winter day rather than mid summer.

Remembering the Concorde crash

On July 25, 2000, I had returned to Paris after four weeks of covering the Tour de France and was in the office waiting for my flight back to my home base Nice. It was a quiet day for news and that afternoon I relaxed in the office.

Paris photographer Philippe Wojazer told me, “because it’s quiet, there isn’t any need for the two of us here, I’m going back to my place.” I remember seeing him take his motorbike helmet and then seeing a news flash that said, “Plane crash at Roissy.” The adrenaline was pumping in the office when a second news flash announced “It is a Concorde.”

Philippe told me to head to Roissy on a motorbike with a driver and he would stay at the office to receive my photos. On the way to Roissy, I could see a column of smoke in the distance. Immediately I realized the severity of the situation and the fact that it was a Concorde heightened the news value of the event. Quickly we arrived close to the crash site but it was already surrounded by police who had blocked access to the area and the surrounding two miles.

from Raw Japan:

Call me “Crasher”


My nickname among the Reuters photographers in Tokyo is "Crasher".

They call me that because I always seem to get pictures right at the moment of a crash whenever I cover motorsports.

One colleague sometimes teases me saying "You’ve got to stop pouring oil on the track," and I answer: "I would never use oil -- I only use banana skins!"

In motorsports the most exciting moment you can capture in a picture is a crash.

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