Monday, 18 May 2009

Fearless Vietnam photographer Van Es dies in Hong Kong (67)

Hubert Van Es, the Dutch photographer who became world famous when he covered the Vietnam War, died in Hong Kong, aged 67.
He took took one of the best known images of the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, led by the Americans. His picture — people scaling a ladder to a helicopter on a rooftop (above) — made all the major newspapers in the world. On behalf of his wife Annie Van Es, the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong announced his death on Friday. He fell into a coma a week earlier after suffering a brain aneurysm. He passed away in Hong Kong's Queen Mary Hospital on Friday.

In 1975, as the North Vietnamese army was approaching Saigon, Van Es photographed the thousands of US military personnel and Vietnamese civilians trying to flee the country. Mr Van Es was in the office of United Press on 29 April, 1975, when he saw around 40 Americans climbing a long ladder to board a CIA helicopter, on a rooftop of an apartment building a few blocks away. The helicopter was clearly too small too carry them all.
Thousands of people were evacuated during the fall of Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City. The building in Van Es' picture housed CIA officials and their families. Without realising it at the time, the photo became one of the Vietnam war's defining images and came to be seen as a symbol of the failure of US policy in the war. He gained a reputation for fearlessness. Van Es later expressed his disappointment that he never received royalties from the use of the photo. Since he worked for the UPI, they owned the picture. The photo is currently in the possession of Bill Gates, through one of his daughter companies, Corbis. Van Es was born in Hilversum, the Netherlands. He headed to Hong Kong in 1967, working as a freelancer and he later became The South China Morning Post's chief photographer. He was sent to Vietnam a year later, after getting a job as a sound man for NBC News, according to the New York Times. In Saigon, he joined the Associated Press photo team in 1969 and changed to UPI in 1972, where he covered the last three years of the war. After the Vietnam war was over, he worked as a freelancer again and settled in Hong Kong. He went to the Philippines to cover the Moro rebellion and also worked on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Mr Van Es is survived by his wife for 39 years, Annie, and an older sister, who still lives in the Netherlands.