For Mike Dyer, a pleasant Sunday morning bike ride with friends through the Calabasas hillside ended in a nightmare.
The group saw a helicopter pass overhead and remarked to each other that it seemed to be flying too low and too fast through the low clouds that obscured the landscape. Then they heard the thud and saw a column of smoke rising in the mist.
Dyer, who just released video he took of the accident, said he only learned who the victims were when he left the trail.
“I was more or less scatter brained, and we kept talking about what we saw,” he told Bike Magazine. “It didn’t hit me until I got to the parking lot. There was a reporter in the lot gathering equipment who asked us if we were at the scene.
“He interviewed me and filmed me, and mid-interview, he dropped the bomb and told me that Kobe Bryant was on that helicopter. My first question was whether there were any children or families on board. He nodded, and that’s when I lost it. I had to drive home. All I knew was that I wanted to go hug my 6-year-old son and my wife and tell them I loved them.”
Health experts say witnesses to tragedy, such as Dyer, often suffer the consequences of post traumatic stress — trouble sleeping, obsessive thoughts and fluctuating emotions, including shock, helplessness, fear and anger. Witnesses may even feel guilt that they survived when they have witnessed the death of another, even a stranger.
Even people far from the site of tragedy may be stressed when they view images online, especially if they see repeated images of the same event. Experts say people who find their emotions getting out of control should limit exposure to images or sounds that could be triggers. That’s something Dyer can understand.
“Taking it day by day,” he told the magazine when asked how he was coping. “Today, I was in the yard and heard helicopters flying over. Every time, I look up. I can’t turn on the TV. Sam [his biking companion] and I talk a lot about it. My brain’s kind of noodled on the whole thing. For me, it’s not so much the Kobe Bryant story, but the collective loss of life—the tragedy of losing children and parents.”