I was contacted several weeks ago by a man asking where the jet in the woods was. After a series of emails he explained that he was producing a pilot for a tv show called Abandoned America. Ian Rosenberger, (3rd place finisher on Survivor Palua) was to be the host and they were looking for interesting local things to shoot for the pilot. They thought the jet in West Milford might be a good choice. I volunteered to take him on a scouting trip to the jet, which we did a week later.
After several weeks of discussion, investigation and general paranoia that I wouldn’t be prepared, we went to the site yesterday to shoot the video. I brought in Ian Hopkins, who settled the debate over what kind of plane it was when he found a stamp of the model on the inside of the wing. He was far more knowledgeable about aircraft then I was, so it was logical to bring him on board. As the “historian” and “local expert” for the segment, I knew I needed to nail down more information. I knew the basics of the incident, but had very little hard data. I managed to track down a local resident who had interviewed a police officer who was on scene the day the jet crashed and obtained a copy of the interview.
The film shoot was to happen at 11am Sunday but for a variety of reasons, including lack of a car, I arrived at 1pm. I met Ian Hopkins for the first time and was introduced to the film crew and to the host Ian Rosenberger. He is 6 foot 8, skinny, and generally likeable. Did I mention he’s a jolly green giant of a man? I recalled how I liked him a lot on Survivor Vanuata, but decided not to pester him with questions about the show and his experience. We were there to film a video of a crashed jet, not an episode of the Survivor fan club.
What amazed me was Ian was wearing flip-flops. I had warned the film crew that the area gets very very muddy during the summer and it had rained a fair amount in the previous days and so it would be worse then normal. I advised wearing boots and bringing a change of footwear, socks and maybe even pants. So was he a non-believer or did he not get the message? or did he just not care? Regardless, I knew he was in for a muddy icky ucky trip…
We filmed an intro bit at a rock wall just inside the trailhead. After getting rid of some jitters and wondering how to look, where to look, and trying not to smile like a geek we got into the shoot. There were a lot of people there. Besides the three of us, there were three film guys, a sound guy, a director and two producers, as well as one of the producers girlfriend. I had been clued in only the day before that a family of bears lives about 200 yards away from the crash site. Luckily if they hear you making noise, they were give you a wide berth as they want no part of you, so I was confident that a dozen people trekking thru the woods with camera gear would make more then enough noise to keep them away… now as for the poisonous snakes that live here, that’s another story.
After the intro shoot we trekking down the hill and thru the boulder field towards the jet, which is about a 7-9 minute walk from the trailhead. The best time to view the jet is in winter because a) it’s not muddy and b) there’s little folliage so you can find the jet easily. In the summer you can be 75 feet away and not see it. I actually got a little disoriented by the dense brush but if you know where to go, it’s pretty hard to miss it.
When we got close I could see this was the worst I’d ever seen the mud. Several time I was in the mud halfway to my knees. Ian’s feet were a mess from the start and after about 5 minutes he gave up and ditched his flip-flops entirely and just went barefoot. Considering there’s snakes, ticks and pieces of metal from the aircraft around, this was not the best move, but he got by ok. Below is a picture of us afterwards. You can see Ian’s feet and they’re a mess even after he washed them off. He was covered with a layer of mud most of the time.
Here’s what my pants looked like when i got home. I sank half way to my knees in spots, but got mud all the way up to my knees. I also had muddy hands and arms and it took a lot of scrubbing to get the mud from under my fingernails…
We spent about 2 hours shooting video and eventually it was all over. The original idea was that they would film an entire pilot episode, featuring the jet, Bannerman Castle and North Brother Island. The entire episode would be shown to the networks to see if they wanted to pick it up as a full series. Now it appears as if they are going to pitch the series solely based on the jet. THANKS GUYS! NO PRESSURE! NOPE, I DON”T FEEL AT ALL RESPONSIBLE FOR SUCCESS (OR NOT) OF YOUR TV SHOW!
They will be doing all the graphics and voice overs and editing and hope to be pitching it by early July with an answer very quickly. I do not know if the show gets green lit if this will be used, re-shot or not used at all. obviously I’d like to see it used, but even if it doesn’t, this was a fun experience. I will be given a copy of the finished product and (with their permission) will post the video on this site.
Oh,… as for the true story of the jet crash… I’m going to remain silent on that and wait till I have the video to post.
There’s more photos over on Flicker