First Dead Body

A fellow camera operator at work came to me the other day and told me he had just seen, and then filmed, his first dead body.

A fellow camera operator at work came to me the other day and told me he had just seen, and then filmed, his first dead body.

As I was coming in from a shoot and he was heading out, we exchanged a casual hello. I kept walking, but I sensed he wanted to say more, so I stopped.

It was then that he stated simply, “I filmed my first dead body today, and it seemed kinda weird.”

He had covered a fatal car accident on a fairly quiet news day. He seemed composed as he spoke of the randomness of death, and his feelings of voyeurism, melancholy and mystification. He just wanted to talk, and I happened to be the first person he saw who he knew would listen and understand.

I was reminded of the first car accident I filmed.

I had worked in outside broadcast for years, but my only exposure to heartbreak was filming a pro golfer miss a putt on the final hole of a major championship. I had started working full-time in news a year earlier. Along with a sound recordist and a cadet reporter fresh from a country paper, I was driving to the first of many scenes of carnage and tragedy.

It was drizzling when we arrived in a working-class suburb, not far from Melbourne, Australia. Twisted metal, broken glass and flashing beacons greeted us. Our eager reporter, not wanting to seem weak in front of the crew, pressed on in heels more suited for a dance floor than an accident scene.

The road was slick with rainwater and worn from years of neglect and truck use. Besides road conditions, the main “offender” was a pizza man in a rush to make a delivery. He went through his car’s windshield onto the road during the collision. He was dead at the scene, as were his mother and a passenger crushed in the second car. Their bodies needed to be cut from the clutches of metal, as if the cars were unwilling to release their dead.

As we filmed the scene, our reporter seemed pale and gaunt, with a vague look of incomprehension. Weak-kneed, she couldn’t make decisions about whom to interview.

I asked her if she was all right and suggested she leave to recompose and gather her thoughts. She politely declined and, thanking me, continued to scribble haphazardly in her notebook, perhaps seeking a distraction from the calamity around her.

Firemen then extracted the deliveryman’s mother from where she lay slumped against the passenger door. Her body provided a grotesque scene for the gathering media. As the Jaws of Life opened the door, the limp body came loose from the car and fell to the ground, its head cracking like an egg as it smacked against the pavement.

I remember the next few seconds only in slow motion. I turned to look the other way, but my eyes landed on our reporter, ashen and about to collapse. She toppled like a felled tree and vomited. She, too, had become a victim, surrendering to revulsion and anguish.

Having emptied the contents of her stomach, she sat clutching her notepad by the side of the road. We never bothered doing interviews; she could barely manage to function, let alone report.

It was quiet on the ride back. Besides informing the office that we were on our way, we hardly spoke as we reflected on the last few hours, hoping to find escape in our thoughts.

It’s been nearly 20 years since that happened, but I remember it as vividly as if it happened today. I travel the same road at least twice a year on the way to shoot jobs; every time I pass that spot, I see the woman fall from the car and hear her head hit the road.

My mind marks the city like pins on a map. Places where I filmed a murder; where I filmed a bank holdup; the scene of a car accident.

I still pass that reporter in the corridor from time to time. We exchange courteous greetings, a few words about work, but we never mention that day – the day she saw her first dead body.