Sunday, March 6, 2011


Photos and text: Olaf Mitchell
In the spring of 1978 I was hired by ABC Wide World of Sports to be part of an elite technical film crew  covering a live ascent of  Angle’s Landing in Zion National Park ,Utah by George Willig and Steve Matous
(By clicking the on highlighted text you get additional information) 

Our crew consisted of :
Bruce Sposi,
Brent Bingham,
Ron Matous,
Rick Ridgeway,
Ron Kaulk,
Dale Bard,
Mike Hoover
Beverly Johnson.

We arrived in Zion a few days early so we could do some rock climbing before the production work started. 

Our  scope of work for the first week consisted of flying by helicopter from the ranger station to a remote location at a place called Observation Point.

 We were to guard the state of the art micro wave equipment that was going to broadcast the climb via satellite to every country in the world. This had never been attempted prior to this event.

We had to educate both the ABC Wide World Of Sports technical crew and broadcast team about rock climbing and the equipment the ascent team would be using on the wall.

Back in that time every camera had to be hard wired with heavy coaxial cables. So we had to string the entire length of the wall with the heavy cable.
That meant rigging a Tyrolean Traverse across the raging Virgin River at the base of the wall. Then we ferried the heavy coaxial cables and equipment across the river to the base of the wall.

Next, via helicopter, we transported all the rest of gear that was necessary to rig the wall for the film crew to move along with the climbers.

 We started at the top and fixed ropes all the way down to the base of the climb. As we fixed the ropes we strung the cables as well.

This was no small chore. It was an honor to be working with the likes of Mike, Beverly, Rick, Ron, and Dale on this aspect of the shoot.

 The rest of our crew was busy with the vast amount of other logistical tasks that needed to be addressed in order for the event to air on the following Saturday and Sunday. Tests had to be made and technical glitches had to be trouble shot.


 This event had the largest budget ever allotted by ABC Sports in its history including the Olympics according to Larry Cam the executive producer of Wide World Of Sports

The logistics of producing a live television broadcast of a free ascent of a rock wall that George nor Steve had any prior personal experience with, was astronomical.That, combined with the time schedules of the ABC network programming.

 The first day we were on the air I was assigned to a position on the summit. Ron was assisting Mike and Dale was assisting Bev. Also, Rick was on the wall handling the back up support for the onsite camera locations.
 I managed the portable power unit that supplied the two video cameras that Mike and Beverly were shooting with on the wall. I was also the radio link that transferred verbal information between the camera crew that was on the wall to the technical command center that was on the ground at the production headquarters site.  I was also to stand ready as a technical back up for the team, in the event that, ANY unforeseen issue occurred on the wall during and after the broadcast.

That first day was grueling and quite stressful due to the distance between my post and where the actual climbing and shooting was taking place.
The second day of the broadcast was much different.  I was assigned to the ground crew until the program was over.  Then I was to catch a ride from the base production compound in the helicopter to assist with removing all the production equipment that we had on the wall.
It was really fun hanging out at the base of operations and enjoying the show with telescopes and closed circuit TV

While I was having grand time on the ground, all was not going well on the wall. George and Steve were pushing as hard as they could to make the networks  time schedule but they were not going to make the summit before the end Wide World’s allotted  time slot. The network was going to move on to their next program which was the hugely popular Sunday NFL Football game. 
In the last minutes left in the program, a miracle happened!
 George Willig was obviously aware of the programming time crunch and was charging hard to make the summit when he slipped and free fell about thirty-five feet.
Always the professional, Mike Hoover had George dead center of his lens when he fell. Mike‘s camera followed him perfectly for the entire length of his dramatic plummet!
Steve’s belay held and George was OK.
The entire country and who know many people all around the world were watching these two men risking their lives thousands of feet from the ground and they had just witnessed their new hero fall through mid air!
When Jim McKay, the  renowned sports announcer announced to the world viewing audience, “ Stay tuned for ABC ‘s coverage of the NFL Football game, the phones lines  at ABC headquarters  were jammed with angry viewers  demanding that they continue the broadcast.
I remember the call coming in over our video monitors to Larry Cam, the executive producer of the show. It was the president of ABC Broadcasting saying, “Forget the sponsors Larry, and Keep those cameras rolling until George and Steve are safely on the summit! This is going to cost “Us” Millions, but, our ratings are through the roof!”
Everyone on our production team’s jaw dropped in utter disbelief!  This had never been done for any sporting event that Wide World Of Sports had covered, even the Olympics!

This is a quote from the ABC Wide World Of Sports: Wide World of Sports Highlights -- 1970s
ABC Sports Online
 “April 22 & 23 George Willig's climb of Angel's Landing in Zion National Park almost ends a bit early when he falls on the way up, but he was able to complete the climb.”
After the production it was back to business.
I was approached by our local runner a girl named Susan. She asked if I could get her a ride in the helicopter. I pulled a few strings and got her on the chopper so she could meet George and Steve as they were starting to hike down.

We cleared the wall of all the production equipment and loaded the Helicopter to the maximum.
Everyone hiked the trail back down to base camp.
ABC Sports threw us a fantastic party that night!  Ron Kaulk and I kept it going at Susan’s place for a little while longer.
The next day we went rock climbing and then drove back to Denver /Boulder with cactus spines in us


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