Former 11Alive pilot/reporter Bruce Erion passes at age 71

Bruce Erion at a Tegna retirement party last year at Tavernpointe restaurant. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

This was posted Friday, June 16, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Former 11Alive reporter Bruce Erion known for his forays flying the company “Skycam” helicopter has passed away Thursday from cancer. He was 71.

According to an 11Alive Alumni Reunion page, “he was surrounded by his family. His wife Terry says Bruce didn’t want a funeral or memorial service but a party to celebrate Bruce will be held at a later date.”

He was a West Point graduate and Vietnam vet.

Erion worked at the NBC affiliate WXIA-TV from 1982 to 1999.

“The West Point graduate was a big star in a very different Atlanta,” wrote Jeff Hullinger on Facebook. Hullinger was at rival WAGA-TV at the time and is now anchoring at 11Alive. “If you were not here 30 years ago, it’s difficult to convey just how famous Erion was. I remember him anchoring a newscast as he was flying the 11Alive helicopter being interrupted by air traffic control–still amazing.”

Retired anchor John Pruitt, who worked with Erion for 15 years at 11Alive, called him a “pioneer” and a good friend. “He was a masterful helicopter pilot but also a great personalty,” Pruitt said in an interview today. “He could talk and fly a helicopter at the same time. Very quick witted, very glib. A very winning personality. Viewers loved this guy. He would visit schools almost every day of the week. Kids would come out and he’d do a puppet show. He was truly a larger-than-life personality.”

Former 11Alive reporter Paul Crawley considered him “a goodwill ambassador for TV and aviation” with his community service work. “I never saw anyone who could be such a jack of all trades, not only an excellent pilot but also a wonderful personality, a genuine nice guy.”

Crawley recalled flying in the chopper with Erion reporting on prison escapees in Canton. They needed to grab lunch so they landed in a parking lot of a Wendy’s, which happened to be celebrating a grand opening. There were balloons everywhere. The manager rushed out, excited, saying, ‘Wow! Channel 11 sent Bruce Erion to cover my opening!” But when the manager found out this was just a chow break, he was crestfallen.

Also on Facebook, former 11Alive sportscaster now at CBS46 Fred Kalil noted that Erion  “started the pilot reporter concept at KOOL-TV in Phoenix. Skycam was his studio. Met him there, then fortunate to work with him at 11Alive in the 90’s. Always fun flying with or just hanging out with ‘Brewster.’ Landed near a Waffle House one time. When asked what was going on, he replied: ‘Just hungry.’ RIP my friend!”

In 1995, his girlfriend Shirlee Rothermal drowned in Lake Lanier. According to a story in Atlanta magazine in 2000, Erion was cleared of any involvement in Rothermel’s death but he told the magazine he was still haunted by that night. The couple had had an argument on his houseboat, Erion said, and he had stormed off to a nearby restaurant. While he was gone, Rothermel apparently fell overboard and drowned. “It’s not my fault, but I still feel responsible,” Erion said.

He lost his job at 11Alive in 1999 after he was charged with boating while under the influence, obstruction and reckless conduct on Lake Lanier, where he resided at the time. Erion was fined $1,000, served 24 hours in jail and received 12 months’ probation on the BUI charge. On each of the other two charges, he was fined $500 and given 12 months’ probation.

Budgets were getting tighter by that time. Eventually, three of the local stations pooled resources and leased a single copter for aerial views. Channel 2 Action News is the only station that has reporters that fly in the air. Nobody flies and reports at the same time anymore.

According to Evelyn Mims, who worked at 11Alive at the time, Erion later worked ferrying patients via helicopter for Georgia Baptist Hospital, now the Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center.

11Alive gave him a tribute on air :

Bruce Erion used to fly his copter to schools and visit kids in the 1980s and 1990s.

 


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