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#VintageKSDK: News chopper crashes into Mississippi in 1966

We go to the video vault for the day a KSDK photographer and his helicopter pilot crashed into the Mississippi River while covering another story

ST. LOUIS — Journalism can be a dangerous job, with reporters and photographers often going into war zones or natural disasters.

For this week's Vintage KSDK story, we go to the video vault for the day a KSDK photographer and his helicopter pilot became the story, and crashed into the Mississippi River while covering another story.

Credit: KSDK
KSDK news chopper in-flight.

It was Friday, Feb. 11, 1966.

Ten of 14 barges broke loose from a towboat on the ice-filled Mississippi River and ran right into the pier and pilings supporting the Poplar Street Bridge, which was under construction.

On the shore, KSD reporter Chris Condon talked with an engineer who said the accident would likely delay work on the bridge project for at least a month.

In the air was KSD photographer Dick Deeken, riding in a helicopter piloted by William Houska. The two-shot aerial footage of the barge accident as they covered the story from above.

Credit: KSDK
Pilot William Houska, 24, poses with his news helicopter.

Then suddenly, people on the ground reported hearing a loud pop. The helicopter carrying the two men crashed 50 feet into the icy Mississippi.

The chopper floated long enough for Housak and Deeken to get out. Both started swimming for shore and were picked up by a construction barge about 50 feet away. Once on dry land, the two were taken to get dry clothing in a construction shack on the Missouri side of the bridge project.

Neither man was hurt. Pilot Houska, just 24 at the time, said he hit power lines.

Houska passed away in 1999. 

We invited his sons, Bill and Greg, both professional pilots themselves, to the newsroom to watch the film. They said this was a story their dad talked about his entire life.

"Didn't dad say he was kind of watching what he was taking pictures of, and not watching where he was going, and the wires popped up," remembered Greg Houska.

His brother Bill said both he and Greg were inspired to become pilots themselves because of their father. And even though they hadn’t been born when the accident happened, they have clear memories of their dad talking about it.

"It was always neat to hear dad call up Dick on the anniversary of it every year," Bill said, "and kind of comment, ‘Hey, weren’t we at the bottom of the river right now back in 1966?’”

Greg Houska said the story brings back fond memories of his father.

"Wasn't it years ago that someone dredged the helicopter up and someone called dad up and asked if he wanted it?” Greg asked with a laugh.

But that helicopter, worth $36 thousand dollars back then, and Deeken's camera, still sit at the bottom of the river.

Dick Deeken, or "Deek" as we called him, worked for the station for more than 30 years.

Credit: KSDK
KSDK photographer Dick "Deek" Deeken, after his rescue from a crashed news helicopter.

He was not only one of the most experienced, but one of the nicest photographers, to work with.

He passed away in 1995 at the age of 57.

We have more than 70 years worth of video to share with you. Look for the Vintage KSDK segment every week on 5 On Your Side at 4 p.m. and by using #VintageKSDK on social media.

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