Helicopter company dismisses trainee and suspends employee after ‘repulsive’ comments during Boston protest

"The comments are inexcusable and offensive, and have no place in our society."

Protesters at Franklin Park on Tuesday. –Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

A third-party helicopter company used by NBC10 Boston says it has dismissed a prospective employee and suspended an aerial photographer/reporter after several “offensive statements” were picked up by a hot mic Tuesday during live footage of a police violence protest in Boston.

“I wish you had your bow staff now, and two of them,” a man, identified as the trainee, could be heard saying in the helicopter as it hovered above marchers in the Franklin Park protest.

Amid laughter, the trainee — responding to someone else in the helicopter — later suggests replicating the scene at the end of the 2009 movie “Inglourious Basterds,” in which the film’s protagonists carve a swastika into the forehead of a fleeing Nazi colonel.

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The remarks, which were clipped by a viewer and posted on Twitter, aired during live Facebook videos posted by 7News and WCVB, which were sharing a helicopter Tuesday with NBC10 Boston. Local broadcast stations often pool helicopters during live events.

“We do not condone such remarks nor tolerate them,” NBC10 Boston tweeted late Tuesday in response. “We implore the helicopter co. to take immediate corrective action to prevent this from happening again.”

A spokesperson for NBC10 Boston identified the company as Welk Aviation, a Los Angeles-based helicopter operator founded by Larry Welk (who also happens to be the grandson of longtime TV variety show host Lawrence Welk). In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Welk said he was “disgusted” by the comments and “completely” cut ties with the individual, whom he characterized as an “applicant.”

“We don’t tolerate that,” he said. “I never want this guy near one of our helicopters ever again.”

Welk also said the company had suspended the photographer, “who brought this guy in,” and is conducting an investigation to determine what further disciplinary action may be warranted. He noted that the trainee can be heard laughing in response to something during the particular 75-second exchange.

“What was being said that was so funny?” Welk said.

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According to Welk, the helicopter had three people onboard: the trainee, the photographer, and the pilot. He declined to identify the employees by name, citing the company’s privacy policy.

Welk, a pilot and reporter himself, said he was “literally flying ” when he was “blindsided” by the incident.

“Somebody radioed to the helicopter and said ‘We’ve got an issue in Boston,’ and then gave me a brief rundown,” he said. “I was shocked.”

Welk also apologized to NBC10 Boston, which is demanding the termination of any Welk Aviation employees who”engaged” in the exchange.

“The comments are inexcusable and offensive, and have no place in our society,” the NBC10 spokesperson said in a statement.

“Since speaking out about this incident, NBC10 Boston has also demanded the helicopter company to launch an investigation and to terminate all other individuals who engaged in the repulsive exchange,” the statement continued. “NBC10 Boston will monitor this investigation until sufficient action has been made appropriate to our standards.”

While the comments did not air on broadcast television, Welk noted that online streaming is how a generation of viewers gets their news.

“This is how we get information,” he said.

As of Thursday afternoon, the two-hour-long live video had received 379,600 views on WCVB’s Facebook page. 7News appears to have removed the footage from its Facebook page.

Welk said he also asked his company’s law firm to update their sensitivity training by the end of June and sent a companywide memo outlining their zero-tolerance policy.

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He also bemoaned how the incident might reflect on the rest of his 80 employees, who have been particularly busy covering the recent protests and unrest over police violence and institutional racism. The increased work was the reason the company had been looking to hire part-time photographers.

“It’s a challenging time right now for everybody,” Welk said. “I don’t want to paint people with a broad brush. We have very professional, hardworking crews that are really working hard in challenging conditions to bring people information about what’s going on in the world right now. We’re letting our employees know that we support our employees, but we do not support what was said in that helicopter.”


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