The World According To Damien
in a World gone mad – one sane voice emerges…

Damien on… The “Challenger” Disaster

One day back in 1986, I was watching afternoon TV – when suddenly the picture broke up and a voice announced they were going over to the newsroom for a newsflash. At the time, this was unusual – so quick-thinking, I slammed a blank video-cassette into the machine and hit “record”.

What I ended up with, was one of the most POWERFUL pieces of video in my collection.

A news cameraman had been despatched to film what SHOULD have been a routine puff piece – reaction shots of the Interested Parties in the bleachers, at the latest Shuttle launch. But what he ended up filming was EXTRAORDINARY.

As the Shuttle exploded, 74 seconds in, those who were familiar with launches knew their relatives or loved ones were DEAD – however, the many people who were attending their FIRST launch initially assumed the explosion was merely separation of the vehicle’s stages.

Thus, as some faces became wreathed with PAIN – others were still in awe at the majesty of it all.

But as word of what had ACTUALLY happened began to spread through the crowd like a slow cancer – those faces too became angst-ridden.

Meanwhile, the cameraman carried on doing his JOB – scanning the crowd for reaction shots. He knew plenty of other cameras would be covering the space vehicle itself.

But here’s the thing – when his work aired on the evening news bulletins, it had been edited down to just a few seconds of STERILE CLIPS.

However – I was one of the FEW people who had his FULL, UNCUT, RAW footage – and in 2009, I uploaded it to YouTube.

I set the comments to “must be approved”, to weed the inevitable anti-American/trollish/inappropriate ones out – and have so far had over 500 acceptable comments from those who were as moved by the footage as I have always been, every time I view it (which is RARELY, as it STILL has enormous power).

The piece has so far had nearly half a million hits. And it obviously affects other people in the same way it affects me. The reason being that it represents a look into something that is rare, in this World.

Its DARK side – UNCUT. And it is THAT which moves one.

The news business has always concentrated on human tragedy, rather than just NUMBERS. This is because people can IDENTIFY with it. Stalin famously said that one death was a tragedy – a million was a statistic.

And this is demonstrated by the facts. On “9/11” three thousand people died – whereas HERE, a few years later, the Boxing Day Tsunami killed around three HUNDRED thousand. But which event got the most coverage?

While the Third World has TERRIBLE statistics (if the infant mortality rate in a Western country was HALF what it is in Africa, it would be treated as the number one priority in that country) – a donkey stuck down a well in Nuneaton becomes headline news.

At the end of the day, the prominence of the “story” is governed by the media which covers it. Unfair – but a fact of life.

Cosmically speaking, in our modern World – ALL preventable and unnatural death is a tragedy.

The little kid killed by bad water in India, the uncared-for kitten squashed by a car, the millions abused by tyrannical regimes, the thousands of gullible young men and women sent off to fight old men’s wars for them.

And a small group of brave individuals trying to push the envelope of exploration, in a vehicle comprised of thousands of components – each built by the lowest bidder.

Our reaction to these events depends largely on how the story reaches us. On rare occasions, it may be through personal experience (I once emerged unscathed from a train wreck – see elsewhere, in these chronicles) but more often it is through the medium of a cynical press or TV news outlet.

But while informing us of events – these media are also in the business of SANITIZING what we actually see.

During the Sixties’ Vietnam War, freed from the control of the DOD censors (Vietnam was a “police action” – not a war) the news services showed the TRUTH about war, to the World.

However, the World did not LIKE seeing burned babies, while eating their dinner. And so, since that time, the media have PULLED BACK from portraying the cruel realities of life in their full inglory.

And as a result, they fail to do their damn JOB.

The crowd shots at the Challenger disaster were shown as RAW FOOTAGE by CNN – in the days when that service still had TEETH – although even THEY CUT it from later bulletins, once they realised what it WAS.

And that was a PEEK into the REAL WORLD. A place where mankind is capable of GLORY – and immense STUPIDITY. Stupidity which often results in TRAGEDY.

For those who can TAKE it – here IS that peek…


12 Responses to “Damien on… The “Challenger” Disaster”

  1. The first time I observed, and disapproved of, the phenomenon of people’s seeming unconcern at the suffering of others was when I was leaning on the railing of the playground, aka schoolyard, of Knavesmire Primary School, York, the day after I heard the grown-ups discussing the coverage of the contents of the book by John Hershey entitled “Hiroshima”. As I have said before in the blogosphere, I was thinking of the people with melted eyes, but the other kids were playing their fatuous games and pranks.

    This must have been when the book was published six months after the ending of WW2 by the use of the atom bomb. Until all the details came out, it was assumed that the atom bomb was just a very big version of an ordinary block-buster. But when we heard stuff like the Japanese anti-aircraft gunners, having been discovered all still looking up and awaiting further orders, but with their melted eyes having flowed down their cheeks like giant tears, everybody figured this was a new, bigger deal.

    In fact, it was not. One innocent killed is as bad as many. One way of dying is as bad as any. Suffering in a firestorm lit by many hundreds of incendiary bombs is as bad as any burn from the heat radiation of a single nuclear explosion. There are many stages of harm inflicted according to your distance from the explosion. And, in fact, my obsessive alarm and horror at the men with melted eyes, and at the vapourised people at ground zero (a term famously applied many years later in New York City), was not a function of my superior intellect. It was because I was a dysfuncional manic-depressive aka bi-polar inferior idiot.

    Play and stoicism is healthy. Pointless and obsessive brooding is unhealthy and unproductive. It is a self-indulgence.

    Only CNN was taking the NASA feed LIVE in January 1986. Shame on all the other profit-hungry networks. The camera-person recording the crowd exhibits the same stupidty of camera-people everywhere. He or she is obsessed with getting that “candid” close-up. The sequence of pictures was 80% useless roving and bobbing. He or she would have done far better to lodge the camera on a tripod, pull back to medium shot taking in a dozen-wide section of the crowd centered on Christa’s Mom and Dad.

    I missed the whole thing. I had not TV at the time. I was living in Duke Street, Southport. I walked down Lord Street and noticed the event in a TV shop window. I bought a copy of each of the British newspapers the next morning. I did the same for JFK assassination, and for each of the Apollo missions. They are long thrown out.

    Viewing the U-Tube via the link on this Post a few minutes ago, I noticed the presence of what seemed to be the work of nut-cases. What the Hell is with “Apollo 11 explosion” for example? I waited, looking for the flare of a separation burn. Nothing.

  2. I cannot answer for some of the tosh that appears on YouTube (I police MY Challenger piece) but regarding the photographer on the piece – as I said in the article, he was doing his JOB. The camera IS all over the place – but his footage was RAW and not intended to be shown thus.

    Rather, he was expecting what DID eventually happen – for clips from it to be EDITED, for later transmission. But CNN accidentally put out the RAW FOOTAGE – and it shows the REAL horror of that day – rather than the SANITIZED version that went out in the later news bulletins.

  3. Your post would be more readable and powerful if you QUIT capitalizing
    selected WORDS like THIS.

  4. Sorry – that’s my STYLE. Also, using hyphens as dramatic pauses. If we all wrote the same, even LESS people would read than do NOW.

  5. Dear Damien, do you know the name of cameraman who recorded this fim? Thanks

  6. I’m afraid not. He was sent to film the bleachers audience at the launch and only swung the camera towards the spacecraft for a couple of seconds – then, presumably remembering his instructions, he continued filming said audience. It could have been a CNN staff cameraman – or a local stringer.

  7. Ok. Thanks.

  8. My name is Stephen Chavarie. I worked as a news cameraman for a local news station. I covered all the shuttle launches as my assignment. They had become rather routine and I thought I’d do something different that day and video The families and guests invited to watch the launch of the first school teacher in space. I shot this video. Watching it today brought a wave of emotions over me as I remember it like it was yesterday.

  9. Wow. It’s awesome to hear from you. The raw footage you shot still remains the most powerful I have ever seen.

    It gets accusations of “ghoulishness” in the comments, but I stand by my opinion that it needs to be seen, for its demonstration of pure emotion.

    I believe few watch it for base arousal – rather as a demonstration of the empathy of the human spirit.

    I only recorded it off air in its entirety by a fluke. Later, it got reduced to a “bite” – but I felt the full recording should be seen, as it shows humanity in crisis, without sanitisation.

  10. I don’t know if you will receive this, but two-and-a-half years ago (I know) you asked who had filmed the raw footage of the crowd at the Challenger disaster. At that time I said I didn’t know. Well, I just FOUND OUT. I received this comment… My name is Stephen Chavarie. I worked as a news cameraman for a local news station. I covered all the shuttle launches as my assignment. They had become rather routine and I thought I’d do something different that day and video the families and guests invited to watch the launch of the first school teacher in space. I shot this video. Watching it today brought a wave of emotions over me as I remember it like it was yesterday.

  11. Thank you for showing the raw video. It’s only the second time I’ve seen it. It was shot on Beta. I did not have a Beta playback machine on location. After the explosion the cape was locked down; no one in or out. My station flew the helicopter over and landed outside the locked gate. I drove to the gate and threw the tape over the fence to the pilot. The tape was flown back to Orlando where it was fed out to the world.

  12. You did the World an important service. It gave people a chance to see REALITY. Not the crap that passes for reality (“Survivor’ et al) but that which is TRUTH. Something which is under ATTACK by Trump and his followers. It has to be DEFENDED.

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