Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the crash of TWA Flight 800. The jet went down off the coast of Long Island, killing 230 people. On board, a group of students and chaperones from Montoursville Area High School. They were on their way to Paris.
I can write a book about that night, and I really should.
Here is the abridged and super sanitized version. I was working "down the street." My phone rang late at night. I don't remember who was on the other end, but I was asked to come in, meet up with a photographer, and head to Montoursville, ASAP. After a quick shower, I was in the office. There was a briefing. The photographer arrived. We loaded up a truck and headed west.
The dominoes started to tumble, and tumble hard.
I received the call because the station's central Pennsylvania reporter wasn't answering her phone. I won't go in to the reasons.
The trip to Montoursville was filled with peril. Yes, we were going a little too fast on a foggy and misty night. I saw several deer along Route 118 and we were lucky that none decided to cross the road in front of us.
The station had a central Pennsylvania newsroom. The thing that fed the video from Williamsport to Scranton wasn't working.
The station had a satellite truck, but it was rented out to another organization and it was in Carlisle for the Washington football team's training camp.
The central Pennsylvania reporter and a photographer eventually showed up, after I had the material for a really good story.
The only way to get the story on the air was to drive it back to Scranton. I was fortunate in that I was working with a great photographer-- fast and smart. We got what information we could and some excellent interviews. In fact, one of the sound bites was so good, it made the "CBS Evening News." We high tailed it back to Scranton, and got a special report on the air, a half hour before the start of our regularly scheduled morning newscast. I was very proud of that. A big part of that was communication with the photographer. I verbally outlined the story to him on the way back. All I had to do upon arrival at home base was bang out a script on a keyboard and voice my portion.
The image that will forever be burned in my brain is something I saw as we were entering Montoursville very early in the morning. News of what had happened spread rapidly. Every light in every home was on. It was like 7 pm rather than 1 am. CNN did a documentary on the crash several years ago. I'm in it, talking about that very thing.
School officials did what they could. Every school has a disaster plan. It's one thing on paper. It's something totally different when you have to implement it, when you have a school filled with crying students and parents, when you have a crush of reporters and photographers in the lobby.
There was plenty of hostility toward the media, and I get that. People were angry. Upset. We are an easy target. It comes with the territory. I didn't see any insensitivity in those early moments, but to many, our mere presence is viewed as crossing the line.
Many of the same logistical problems remained the next day. A station from Buffalo took pity on us and offered to transmit our video back to home base. I wish I remembered the names of the crew. Thank you.
After those first early days, the story was left to others on the staff. I should note the work of Kevin Jordan, who went to Long Island to cover the story from that end. Hardly a day goes by when I don't think of Kevin and what I learned from him.
I left the station about a month later, sorry to lose a job and lose contact with some good people. Looking back, some events changed the place forever and it was best to move on.
Enough about me.
25 years have passed, and I'm sure the pain the families feel is just as strong. It will never go away.