All three members of an ABC news crew were killed in a helicopter crash in South Australia on Thursday night, the corporation and police believe.
The ABC's managing director Mark Scott said this morning that the broadcaster was preparing to receive news of the deaths of the reporter Paul Lockyer, cameraman John Bean and helicopter pilot Gary Ticehurst, who were gathering footage for a news documentary in the Lake Eyre area yesterday.
Police said that they had reached the site of the helicopter crash around 150 kilometres north of Marree, and that the three people on board had died. It is not yet known what caused the crash.
"A local tour guide alerted emergency authorities to the incident at about 7pm last night. They rushed to the scene but the three persons on board the helicopter at the time of the crash have sadly died," the police said in a statement.
Rex Ellis, a local tour operator, told the ABC that the helicopter had come down and burst into flames shortly after taking off from Cooper Inlet yesterday evening.
"It went pretty low, on the other side of the river, and then briefly went out of sight on the other side of the dunes and then we didn't hear anything... We just saw a glow and we realised something pretty bad had happened," he said.
At a press conference on Friday morning, the assistant commissioner Neil Smith said that several personnel were at the crash site. But he said that positively identifying the victims and removing bodies "could take some days" owing to the destructive effects of the fire that followed.
The investigation - including attempts to determine the causes of the crash - will also be made more difficult by the remoteness of the location. Smith said that police did not expect to find any survivors.
"I don't think we have ever had a day like the day we might be facing, with news of the loss of three distinguished colleagues out reporting a story."
News of the deaths of Lockyer, Bean and Ticehurst has shocked their colleagues at the ABC and others in the media industry. Scott said that the broadcaster was preparing for "the saddest of days".
"I think this is going to be devastating for the ABC. We have been going for nearly 80 years. I don't think we have ever had a day like the day we might be facing, with news of the loss of three distinguished colleagues out reporting a story," he told ABC News this morning.
"Paul, Gary and John have each given decades of service to the ABC. They are passionate about their work and finding great stories from all over Australia to bring to the public. Our love, thoughts and prayers go out to family and friends of Paul, Gary and John at this terrible time."
Lockyer became one of Australia's most well-known and distinguished reporters over the course of a 42-year career in journalism, which he began and finished with the ABC.
He won widespread recognition for his work as a foreign correspondent from 1979 onward, returning to Australia nine years later to report for the Nine Network in Sydney. He switched back to the ABC in 1999.
In recent years, Lockyer turned his attention to rural and water issues; the ABC said that he had been working on another documentary on the Lake Eyre region. Earlier this year, he and Ticehurst were members of the first news crew to reach the devastated town of Grantham after it was deluged during the Queensland floods.
Ticehurst had been working as a helicopter pilot for the ABC for nearly three decades, having set up a company that was originally dedicated to serving ABC film crews.
Bean was another ABC veteran, serving as a cameraman across a wide range of the broadcaster's programmes, including news, documentaries and lifestyle shows. Scott described him as "the cameraman that the reporters always clamoured to work with: beautiful craftsman, wonderful behind the lens".
Numerous tributes to the trio, from friends and colleagues in and outside the corporation, were posted on the ABC's website this morning.
"I remember Paul in the early 80s in Bangkok and I remember thinking, 'Gee, I'd like to be like him', and I'm sure there's lots of ABC reporters who have thought and felt the same," said Chris Masters, a former Four Corners correspondent.
The veteran ABC presenter Kerry O'Brien described Lockyer as a "truly lovely man and a true gentleman" who had a "huge affinity" with everyday people. He said that Lockyer had made a major contribution to rural affairs journalism in recent years, "bridging the divide between the city and the bush".
A special national edition of 7.30 will air tonight to pay tribute to Lockyer, Bean and Ticehurst.
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