The hardest story to cover

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Today's my work anniversary, and in 20 years of newspapering in Newfoundland, no moment stands out more than being near Prosser's Rock watching the wreckage of Cougar Flight 491 come through The Narrows on the deck of a ship.

The sombre sight was the culmination of a chilling week.

My assignment immediately following the March 2009 helicopter crash - before we knew whether or not there were survivors - was a tough one.

My bosses wanted reaction from families - not to be a vulture and prey on the grief-stricken, but to offer someone a chance to speak publicly if they wanted.

It had always been my experience that some genuinely want to share their thoughts after a tragedy, while others don't or simply aren't able to.

I understand and re-spect both positions, and would never be pushy, persistent or anything less than completely sensitive.

But my sensitivity wouldn't be needed. No one wanted to speak in the hours and days following the crash.

After I was peacefully escorted by security and police out of the hotel where the families were staying, we changed gears editorially and decided to let the families contact us if they wanted to speak.

I remained in the thick of our newsroom's continuing crash coverage for the next week or so. We punched long hours and offered the anxious public the best coverage we could.

It was exhausting.

Flight 491 went down on a Thursday morning, and around lunchtime the following Wednesday, we learned the Atlantic Osprey was returning to St. John's with the wreckage.

I went down to Prosser's Rock to wait for the ship to come in. Some other reporters had the same idea and also gathered there.

After an hour or so, the Osprey crossed the horizon and slowly steamed towards us.

It's impossible to accurately describe how I felt as it cruised past at about 3:50 p.m. carrying a large cage covered in tarps and what appeared to be red and white helicopter rotors.

After writing about the crash, the 17 people lost, and the recovery efforts for the better part of six days, seeing the wreckage up close made me shiver.

I felt a mix of anger, helplessness and sadness. I thought about the people who died and their families. I thought about the people who work in the offshore. I thought about the future. I thought about a lot of things.

It was an absolutely surreal moment.

I wept driving home that night, and when I reached my house, I was absolutely numb.

It was the most draining day I'd ever put in, and I still think about it often.

No other story has had that effect on me, and I'm hoping another one never does.

Email Steve Bartlett at On Twitter, he's @TelegramSteve.

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Recent comments

  • Michelle
    May 01, 2013 - 09:24

    Agreed, Robert. I have always admired Steve Bartlett's work for the same reasons.

    • Fred
      May 05, 2013 - 13:10

      Steve, great story. I agree with Michelle and Robert. Steve provides a balance to all stories. I was priviledged to work with him. He has my utmost respect as a person and as a journalist.

  • Robert Young
    April 30, 2013 - 08:46

    Steve Bartlett has always been a fine journalist, sensitive, fair and inquisitive. It is hard to keep the balance and inspire others. Keep it up.