Laying Down The Hammer

I was working as a camera operator on an OB (Outside Broadcasting) truck for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (S.A.B.C.) at the time this incident took place. The OB truck was a five-crew, two-camera EPG/EFP cube truck-sized vehicle. The team consisted of two engineers, two camera operators and one audio technician. Our OB unit was known as OB 2K.

When covering sports events, our truck would be connected to the bigger five-camera OB truck via cable or microwave, depending on where the trucks were parked to cover the event, which gave our production access to more cameras and VTRs placed at various locations.

On this particular day, we were setting up equipment in the afternoon to cover a national athletic meet that was to take place that evening at the stadium of the University of Stellenbosch near Cape Town, South Africa. Their team nickname is the Maties. My camera position for that night was to cover the hammer throw and other field events.

There was an athlete practicing the hammer throw, so I went over to watch him to determine if I would be safe in the area that had been designated for my camera position. I also noticed that he had coaching staff with him, so I was sure that if they felt I wasn’t safe, they would let me know. I stood in the area where I would be placing my camera, well within the marked safety zone.

I was bent over the lens attaching the remote zoom cable to the lens when the hammer—a 16-pound ball of metal—hit me in the base of my back. I must have lost consciousness for a split second. When I regained consciousness, I was on the ground and I couldn’t move my legs. Eventually, some of the crew came over to me because someone in the OB truck had seen me fall down on one of the preview monitors. EMTs were called, and as they were wheeling me to the ambulance, I saw that one of the crew had written in big letters on a wall next to the OB truck: MATIES – 1 OB 2K – 0

It hurt too much to laugh.

As for the hammer thrower, it turned out he was a student from a local high school, not one of the athletes who was going to compete that evening.

The lesson I learned from that experience is to trust no one, including myself, when it comes to safety. And I’m very grateful that it wasn’t a javelin.

L.A.-based Leon Benzakein works on various film and TV projects, and is known on several continents for his inability to dodge projectiles.

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