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Enterprising desk work puts AP out front on amusement park rescue

A 14-year-old girl falls from an amusement park ride at Six Flags Great Escape Amusement Park in Queensbury, N.Y., June 24, 2017, in a still image made from amateur video. After she lost her grip on the slow-moving gondola ride she fell into a crowd of park guests and employees gathered under the ride to catch her before she hit the ground. The Delaware teen was in stable condition with no serious injuries, officials said. (Leeann Winchell via AP)

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Colleen Long was by herself on the New York City desk this past Sunday with plenty to do, including taking feeds from two different stringers to update national stories on gay pride parades and a graduation at a suburban high school shattered by killings blamed on the violent MS-13 gang.

But she still managed to jump into action on what turned out to be one of the day’s most clickable stories – of a teenager who dangled and then fell 25 feet from a gondola ride at an upstate New York amusement park.

Long asked the man she was interviewing to send in video that a friend took of the entire event, putting AP out front across all formats.

Not only did Long land an interview with a father and daughter who scrambled to safely catch the 14-year-old girl, she also got the man to send in video that a friend took of the entire event, a reporting tour de force that singlehandedly put the AP out front across all formats.

Long, who normally covers the police beat in New York City, began chasing the story by phone after another video of the girl falling from the ride at the Six Flags Great Escape Amusement Park began circulating online.

Long got hold of a spokesman for the Warren County Sheriff’s Office who gave her the basic outlines of the story, that a girl somehow slipped under the retaining bar that holds passengers in the gondola and dangled for several minutes before falling into the arms of Good Samaritans, including a father and his daughter.

The spokesman mentioned that the father even suffered a minor back injury in taking the brunt of the girl’s fall. Long immediately recognized the man as the real hero of the story and peppered the spokesman for details: “Is he OK? Can we talk to him? Do you have his name?” He checked his notes and not only gave Long the man’s name but his cell phone number as well.

Long ended up interviewing both the father and his daughter,and got amazing quotes,including the man recalling he got he involved because “I couldn’t let that little girl die,” and how he yelled out to her: “It’s OK to let go,I’ll catch you, honey.”

By then,the initial video circulating online had been scooped up by an agency that was asking an exorbitant amount of money for the AP to use it. So Colleen asked the father she was interviewing if he had any video. He said he was taking cellphone video before running to help,and handed the phone off to his girlfriend,who finished recording the whole thing. They allowed AP to use the 5-minute clip, which accompanied Long’s story in both video and still photo form. The still captured the precise moment when the girl went airborne.

The story quickly became a sensation, leading nearly every major news web site.

As expected, Long’s story quickly became a sensation,leading nearly every major news web site and ranking No. 4 overall Sunday on AP Mobile. It also ranked as the AP’s top tweet over the weekend.

For doggedly working a story from the desk to keep the AP competitive, Colleen Long wins this week’s Best of the States Award and the $300 that goes with it.

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