Photographing a plane tragedy in Siouxland, Correctionville

2 Dec

Over the years I have witnessed various tragedies that have occurred. They are events that are sometimes hard to watch. Some I have seen shortly after they have happened, others a little later, but all make you sad because people’s lives have changed in a few short seconds. This weekend a small plane crashed south of Correctionville, Iowa, a small farming community that sits along Highway 20 in Western Iowa and is about 30 minutes east of Sioux City. That evening I was attending an annual Christmas parade in the small town of Le Mars, Iowa, the ice cream capital of the world if you listen to some local residents. Adults and children alike were revelling in the appearance of not one, but three Santas in the parade as well as Christmas lit floats and other entries as people get into the spirit of the season. But two of the three people in the small plane that crashed into a corn field approximately 50 miles away will never again celebrate Christmas. And the pilot of the plane was taken to a local hospital about 30 minutes away from the area with roughly 75 per cent of his body burned according to local media reports.

When I taught a photojournalism course at the local community college I always told students that covering tragic events needed extra caution. They are sensitive events involving people’s lives and emotions depending on what happens. Plus as a photographer you need to be cautious out photographing such an event because you don’t know what else may happen. In covering house fires there are times when there are natural gas lines coming into a house or possibly live electrical wires that become unattached to the house and are still “hot”. I received a phone call from a local newspaper editor telling me about the crash and I weighed the idea of when I wanted to photograph the site. Saturday evening when the plane crashed, it was foggy in parts of Woodbury County. Local media reported that an ambulance leaving the scene hit a Sheriff’s deputy’s car because of the fog. I didn’t want to add to any problems because parking would have been on the side of a two-lane highway, with only flashers and emergency lights telling other motorists there was something going on. So I decided to go out early Sunday morning. There would be less traffic and I would see more of the crash site that in the previous darkness of the evening. I arrived to find a lone deputy’s car at the scene, and made some photographs. The deputy asked me who I was and then asked me to move along because she didn’t want a lot of looky-loos stopping along side the highway possibly causing other problems. I complied, since I had photographed what I needed at the time. I asked her when the Federal Aviation Administration investigators would be out to survey the scene and she gave me an estimated time of arrival. I left, went into Correctionville where I made some other non-related photographs of a building and then returned an hour later. There was more traffic on the road by mid-morning, with a lot of them slowing down to look at what had happened, or stopping along the edge of the road. I pulled way off road onto the shoulder, made some photographs and then left again. Not needing to spend any more time than necessary and causing problems for the Sheriff’s department. Courtesy is always something one should defer to. I didn’t photograph the roadway with traffic, as it was hit and miss with people and it would have required more time and putting myself into a position to show the road and the area drivers were looking at that would be risky at best. Safety should always come first.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

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