HONG KONG – Hubert Van Es, a Dutch photographer who captured the famous image of U.S. citizens lined up on a Saigon rooftop to board a helicopter during the evacuation and fall of the city, died Thursday morning in hospital.
Journalist friends who knew him in Vietnam while covering the war said Van Es suffered a brain hemorrhage while sleeping last week, and that he never regained consciousness. He was 67.
Van Es' famous image of Americans feeling the city as the communists moved back in became a visual icon that represented the failed policy of the United States in Vietnam. Only a handful of photographers dared to stay behind and document the fall of the city, and the iconic image became famous again last decade when it was represented in posters and advertisements for the Broadway musical "Miss Saigon."
The photographer covered the war from 1969 to 1975, working first for the Associated Press then later for United Press International. Before that, he was the chief photographer for the South China Morning Post. It's said that he decided to become a conflict photographer after seeing an exhibit of the work of the legendary war photographer Robert Capa. In 1967, Van Es moved from the Netherlands to Hong Kong.
He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Annie.
There are no funeral plans, but a celebration of his life will be held at a future date at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong, his wife told Van Es' many friends by eMail.
She also said that while her husband may have been best known for his famous Saigon photograph, the work that he was the most proud of were his photographs from the battle for Vietnam's "Hamburger Hill." She also said that aside from a one-time $150 bonus from UPI, Van Es never made any additional royalty money off his famous shot despite the fact it's been published "tens of thousands of times," but that never bothered him. "He was proud of the picture and the importance it had become in history," she wrote.