Deadly Crash Damages TV Tower

WFXL, the Fox affiliate in Albany, Ga., lost its over-the-air signal after its tower was struck by an Army helicopter Thursday morning in a crash that killed four of five people aboard. Now, co-owned  Raycom Media station WALB’s tower may also be at risk.

The Army helicopter was on a training mission between Savannah and Fort Rucker, Ala., when it hit part of WFXL’s 1,000-foot tower at around 7:50 a.m. Thursday, says WFXL station manager Deborah Owens, clipping one of the tower’s supporting guy wires and cutting its RF line.

Station engineers quickly shut down the transmitter after noticing a spike in power levels, and soon received calls about the crash.

Army officials cordoned off the area around the tower on Thursday, but on Friday a crew from ProCom Towers was allowed onsite to begin assessing damage. The transmitter building was unharmed, says Owens, but the full extent of the damage to the tower remains unclear. The structure is still unstable.

“They have not been able to stabilize it yet, so right now they’re not even able to climb it,” says Owens.

The Army has not released details about the possible cause of the accident, says Owens, who says that choppers routinely fly between Savannah and Fort Rucker. She says WFXL tower lights were operational, having just been replaced two weeks ago, and that the tower was repainted last year.

No other stations were co-located on the tower. WFXL’s programming is still being carried by cable and DBS, and is reaching 80% of its audience, says Owens. The station, which broadcasts on Ch. 31 in the Albany market, plans to relocate to a 300-foot tower atop WALB’s studios and begin low-power broadcasts from there as a temporary solution for getting back on-air.

A more pressing concern is that WFXL’s tower will collapse and potentially damage WALB’s main broadcast tower, which is located adjacent to, and only 150 feet away from, WFXL’s damaged stick. With thunderstorms in the forecast for Friday afternoon, Owens was crossing her fingers that the situation didn’t get worse.