The pilot and photographer for Chopper5 remembered the horror unfolding below them when a gas explosion rocked the Country Club Plaza a year ago.
On Feb. 19, 2013, the KCTV5 assignment desk had alerted Capt. Gregg Bourdon and photographer Brenda Lea to the explosion at J.J.'s restaurant before they ran for the helicopter. Because the aircraft is stationed at the Downtown Airport, they could immediately see the thick smoke.
"As soon as we could take off, we could see huge billowing black clouds of smoke coming from the Plaza area," Bourdon recalled.
"It was this huge black plume, and I just immediately thought this is going to be one of the worst things I've ever seen," she said.
They feared for the deaths and injuries below them as firefighters battled the gas-fueled flames that soared as high as a six-story building.
"I was very concerned about what was going on down there," Bourdon said.
He and Lea would launch just after 6 p.m. Other than sitting down briefly to refuel, Chopper5 would stay up for nearly five hours.
"You're trying to work and you're trying not to think about it so your emotions don't overcome you," Lea said. "But it's always in the back of your mind how bad is this really going to be. It looks horrible."
Server Megan Cramer would die and 15 would be hurt including several who suffered critical injuries from burns. The restaurant had shut its doors to customers just before the explosion or the injuries could have been much worse.
Bourdon said it is a miracle that more weren't injured or killed.
Even though it's been a year, they well remember some of the worst moments including when the flames were put out and cadaver dogs were brought in.
When Lea got home that night, she had trouble unwinding because of those disturbing images that she saw from her unique vantage point, and she kept reliving.
"Watching them put out the fire, watching the gas company work, and then watching the cadaver dogs when they brought them in was not a pleasant sight to see," she said. "It was such a visual event."
Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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