RIP, Jerry Foster. AZ news helicopter pioneer


Staff member
Jerry Foster was an icon of mine as I grew up in metro Phoenix, AZ in the 1970s and 1980s. He wasn’t the first news helicopter pilot in the early ENG, or Electronic News Gathering, business….that goes to Los Angeles station KTLA: but he was the first for Arizona. Flying for KOOL radio/rv initially, Foster spent the bulk of his career at KPNX-12, flying the very well known Sky12 helicopter.

As there were very few law enforcement helicopters during the 1970s, Foster was often called upon by county sheriff offices and police depts to aid in search and rescue efforts, especially in remote areas of the state and the lakes surrounding the metro PHX area. Foster has many, many rescues and medevac missions to his credit. I met Jerry numerous times in my life, two different times when he landed at my elementary school, outreaches that he did often, and a few times at KSDL, when I was flying traffic watch planes and he was at the end of his career.

Foster had a home up in Cave Creek, north of SDL, with his own helipad, and KPNX allowed him to take his Hughes 500D home with him, where he could respond to quickly and either get the news, or become part of it.

Foster was a controversial figure who wasn’t without his own personal troubles, having had run-ins with the FAA, but also having been awarded one of the nations highest aviation honors, the Harmon Trophy in 1982. Eventually, Foster got in trouble for drug possession during the end of his career, not knowing what to do with his life as retirement was coming up and the excitement would no longer be there. Foster quietly retired from the public life he had so long lived within, being a guest in many people’s living rooms every night, with action aerial news coverage.

I became Facebook friends with Jerry long ago, discussing with him different times of AZ history that he was involved in and that I remembered, and he posting all kinds of memorabilia of photos and the like. He eventually wrote an autobiography, a really good book about his the different events in his life and the back story of the aerial news business, as well as the politics of it in the Phoenix market. Last year, Jerry entered hospice care for complications of lung cancer, and just 2 months ago, he took one last flight in an R66 helicopter as a passenger, having not been airborne in a helicopter in nearly 30 years, to take a tour around his old stomping grounds: Phoenix and much of Arizona. To see how big the metro valley had grown since his time, to see how Arizona has developed in those years. From the Grand Canyon to old town Bisbee, and from low deserts of Lake Havasu City to mountain country of St Johns. Jerry got to experience it from a helicopter one last time.

Today, Jerry’s wife Linda announced his peaceful passing at age 82. Thank you for being there and thank you for being an inspiration to a kid who was just one of many that saw the work you did and watched in awe….a guy who was bigger than life and who I though back then, would probably live forever. Though your life may have been complicated, you made everyone feel like they were a member of your family. Thank you for that.

Slow salute to you, sir.


1979 documentary on Jerry Foster


Jerry Foster’s final flight:


Last edited:
RIP sir. And you need to be a historian somewhere. I can be your underling, fetching old newspaper clippings from a library under a green desk light.
Well, I ended up reading about that dude for about 20 minutes - what an interesting character.
The video above with the Hughes 500 is really cool. Love the kids reactions at the 12 minute mark.
In the above video, there are a couple shots of a badly crashed 400 series Cessna, probably a 402. I think I saw a moment where a guy going through the wreckage clears a pistol he found. Probably a drug running plane? Wasn't sure if you knew the backstory.
In the above video, there are a couple shots of a badly crashed 400 series Cessna, probably a 402. I think I saw a moment where a guy going through the wreckage clears a pistol he found. Probably a drug running plane? Wasn't sure if you knew the backstory.

That was a Cessna 401, N499W, accident on 18 March 1982. Was a flight from PHX to AMA, prisoner transport plane with 7 onboard: 1 pilot, 2 prisoners and 4 armed guards. Route was IMC with moderate icing and moderate turbulence forecasted above the freezing level. Flight launched, and began having engine trouble over mountainous terrain with one engine near Sunflower, AZ and was in icing, in the area northeast of the PHX valley, and declared an emergency. That was the last radio comms with them. The Cessna made a slow descent as it couldn’t maintain altitude, and impacted a low mesa flat area in between mountains, sliding to a stop as it partially disintegrated. Arizona Department of Public Safety (State Police) Ranger helicopter was dispatched by ATC and Jerry Foster in Sky12 was coming back from a news story some distance away and volunteered to assist, and both were sent to the last area of radar contact.

Searching through low cloud ceilings and rain, Sky12 eventually found the plane wreckage and called DPS Ranger 29 over to the scene. Both helos found a place to land about 200 yards from the impact site. The trooper/medic from Ranger 29 and the cameraman from Sky12 disembarked from their helos (each staying running with their pilots onboard) and went to the wreckage. They discovered 5 fatal from the impact, but both prisoners alive and in their seats, still shackled in chains to the floor and unable to get out….the shackles ironically having served to prevent them from getting thrown forward from their seats and becoming fatally injured like the guards. The pistol you see is one of the 4 revolvers being unloaded and handed to the Sky12 cameraman before the trooper works to unshackle and unlock the cuffs of the prisoners and get them out. In the actual video of this complete with sound, the approaching trooper first sees the prisoners alive after having seen the pilot dead in the cockpit and the guards dead in the cabin. As he’s asking the prisoners if they are ok, one of the prisoners who was injured and scared says “just get us out if you can. We promise we ain’t gonna run, you don’t have to worry about that..” The trooper extricated then treated the two prisoners, who were taken to the DPS helo and evacuated to a hospital.

Here’s another video that has more footage of the crash and crash site, but the voice audio was dubbed over by the music. The second video is Ranger 29 being filmed by Sky12, making a rescue of a old school Chevy Blazer that tried to cross the flooded Salt River in Feb 1983 to get to Phoenix Raceway, and didn’t make it. Foster and Sky12 made many river/flood rescues and responded to many medical calls and aircraft crashes in the surrounding greater PHX area during his time in the business.