The View From Above

Oct 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Larry Welk, the grandson of TV legend Lawrence Welk, knew he was in for a bumpy night the moment he got to the hangar housing the helicopters for Los Angeles TV stations KCBS and KCAL.
The howling Santa Ana winds made it hard to even open the hangar doors at the small Whiteman Airport in the San Fernando Valley, where the stations keep and maintain their two helicopters and a third as backup.
By about 7 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21, Mr. Welk, the chief pilot-reporter for KCBS and KCAL, and a cameraman were over Malibu.
“We knew it was horrible,” Mr. Welk said.”The smoke wasn’t going up in the air. It was blowing horizontally straight out over the ocean. When we got overhead we could see they were already losing structures.”
For the next few days, the stations’ helicopters would operate almost 24 hours a day in winds that reached hurricane strength, tracking fires from northern San Diego County to north of Los Angeles.
“Sometimes it’s extremely turbulent and we’ll actually turn around, but most of the time, if you’re pointed into the wind, the helicopter actually likes it. You don’t have to use as much power,” said Mr. Welk.
He first took to the skies over Los Angeles for KCBS in 1992, but that wasn’t the first time he was on TV. His maiden appearance had happened years earlier, when he was 4 years old, on his granddad’s eponymous variety show one Christmas.
Mr. Welk’s own home did not end up in the line of fire last week, but four cousins in the San Diego area were forced out of their homes and the several hundred time-share units of the Welk Resort in northern San Diego County were voluntarily evacuated early last week.
All last week Mr. Welk’s days and nights were punctuated by landings at the airport, where the activity was “almost like a pit stop for a NASCAR race,” he said.”The crew gets out, grabs something to drink, grabs a quick bite. I’m dashing out to get sandwiches for whoever lands next. As soon as they land, I’ll hop in and fly until 1 o’clock in the morning.”

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