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PFF mourns media workers' deaths in helicopter crash

(PFF/IFEX) - Rarotonga, Cook Islands, 17 August 2011 - The Pacific Freedom Forum joins with our Australian colleagues in mourning the tragic deaths of three universally respected and highly experienced media workers in a helicopter crash in far northern South Australia.

Reporter Paul Lockyer, camera operator John Bean, and pilot Gary Ticehurst had returned to Lake Eyre to continue their coverage from this remote location when the ABC helicopter reportedly crashed.

Over the last two years, the team had reported on how the usually dry Lake Eyre and the rivers and streams which feed into it were flooding as water from further north travelled south into Australia's outback. Their work produced acclaimed television news and current affairs stories, and breathtaking, world standard, documentary length programmes.

"We are especially saddened because this team's work has been seen on Australia Network Television, operated by the ABC, and brought the sights and sounds of Australia, especially rural and regional Australia, to the developing Pacific," PFF co-chair, Titi Gabi, said from Port Moresby.

Over his 40 year career, Paul Lockyer amply earned the respect of all with whom he worked, most recently with his reportage from the Queensland floods and cyclone disasters earlier in 2011.

Camera operator John Bean had recently filmed in Papua New Guinea with Pacific Pulse presenter Tania Nugent and had also visited other Pacific countries, including Nauru, with reporters like Sean Dorney. Through his work on ABC TV's rural programme, Landline, he demonstrated great sensitivity to the issues and concerns of people who rarely feature in mainstream journalism.

"The tragedy is truly a loss for the Pacific region and reminds us all of the risks media workers run when travelling to report on stories of importance," Ms Gabi said. "The team wasn't caught up in a conflict, or a disaster, but were continuing their coverage of one of nature's great, and rare, phenomena, the flooding of one of Australia's great inland lakes, and the natural resurgence this brings when it occurs."

"But even with meticulous planning, in the hands of respected and highly experienced pilot, Gary Ticehurst, travelling to such remote locations, which require long distance helicopter flights, is dangerous, as this tragedy has so sadly demonstrated," Ms Gabi said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the three media worker's families, and our Australian ABC friends and colleagues as they mourn, remember, and praise the lives, exemplary careers, and example all three set," co-chair, Monica Miller, said from Pago Pago.

"The best way to remember Paul, John, and Gary is for all media workers to seek to emulate them in their professionalism and humanity.
"They will be sorely missed," Ms Miller said.

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