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Three Fall from Smith Hill Tower

Updated 10/26 at 8:00am — UTICA-ROME — NBC affiliate WKTV says three workers who fell from a transmission tower outside the station’s Smith Hill studios this morning are expected to be okay.  “None of the injuries are considered to be life threatening,” the station reported on its website, and one of the three workers has already been released from the hospital.

According to the Utica Observer-Dispatch, the men fell somewhere between 20 and 40 feet. No word on what caused the 11:30am incident.  The workers, contractors from Alpha Antenna Service, were upgrading the antenna for translator W59AU, which carries Syracuse PBS affiliate WCNY’s television programming to the Utica market.

In an earlier story, the newspaper reported there “could” be outages today for W59AU and for WUNY 89.5 FM, which simulcasts the Classic FM programming originated from WCNY-FM in Syracuse.  The paper said the outages would take place during upgrade work, intended to improve the reception of W59AU, while also adding three subchannels.

According to WKTV, the three men were hoisting themselves up the tower using a cable and harness system.  At some point, the antenna at the top of the tower buckled, creating slack in the cable, dropping the men.  They are identified by WKTV as:

  • William Fox, 49, suffered “severe facial injuries,” in fair condition as of Tuesday morning;
  • Kelly Dougherty, 30, suffered a foot injury, also in fair condition Tuesday morning; and,
  • Gregory Campbell, 44, was taken to the hospital, evaluated and released on Monday.

While members of the Deerfield Fire Department and Kunkel Ambulance handled most of the emergency response, the Utica O-D says WKTV news director and 5pm co-anchor Steve McMurray — a member of the Frankfort Fire Department  — helped responders with aiding the victims.

Utica-area media reports OSHA investigators responded to investigate the cause of the antenna collapse and the resulting injuries.

Look by the red arrow and you'll see the tip of WKTV's tower, dangling precariously. Photo by Grant deBruin.
Look by the red arrow and you'll see the tip of WKTV's tower, dangling precariously. Photo by Grant deBruin.

As a precaution, not knowing whether the antenna would stay put or fall from the tower, WKTV evacuated employees from its main building, which includes master control, the newsroom and the news studio.  The unmanned station ran CW network programming on its main channel for most of the afternoon, and there was no noon newscast.  (CW network usually runs on channel 2.2.)

WKTV says a new tower crew arrived late this afternoon and declared the building safe for occupancy.  In the meantime, employees had been waiting across the street, in a building that houses the transmitters for Townsquare Media radio stations WLZW and WODZ, as well as office space for WKTV’s sales and production departments.

A spokesperson for WCNY tells the O-D that a tower climber will be taking a closer look at the damage, in order to determine whether restoring the antenna will require a crane or a helicopter.

Scott Fybush, who visited Smith Hill for a 2001 edition of his website’s popular Tower Site of the Week column, said he believes the very top of the tower was actually the antenna for W59AU.  In the photo posted with this article, it’s tough to tell whether the fallen antenna damaged the three-bay antenna for WUNY, but since then, a video posted on WKTV’s website includes shots from another angle, where the WUNY bays appear to be undamaged.

Fybush’s website recounts the history of the tower: it was only used to broadcast WKTV when the station was on channel 13.  When WKTV moved to channel 2, the station did so from a new transmitter site near Middleville.  Since then, the “original” WKTV tower has been used by WKTV only for ENG and STL functions, and by WCNY to broadcast W59AU and WUNY.

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