We are devoting many posts today to the anniversary of 9/11, with first-hand accounts, insight, and commentary dedicated to that day seven years ago that changed our world. Edith Chapin was the Deputy Bureau Chief of CNN's New York bureau on September 11th, 2001. She was in the middle of CNN's morning conference-call to discuss the day's programming, when a colleague ran into the meeting with news an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. She shares her experiences below:
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CNN Vice President and Washington Deputy Bureau Chief
I had already spoken on CNN’s daily morning conference call about expected coverage in New York that day. My colleagues and I were just listening to the rest of the network plans, when a colleague came running into the newsroom saying he had just witnessed it from an office on the other side of the building. I immediately broke into the conference call with the news.
“This is New York. We have breaking news to report. A plane has hit the World Trade Center.”
Those words are one of my clearest memories from September 11, 2001.
The rest of the day is a series of snapshots in my memory.
I was in the newsroom seconds later. The first screen my eye locked onto on the bank of televisions above the assignment desk was the one with the WABC helicopter feed. I saw the North Tower with the big black hole. I remember thinking “that is kind of big for a Cessna”, which is what I had envisioned as I relayed the news to the network.
We began re-directing all of our field personnel to the scene, knowing that one major challenge would be transmission. Our primary microwave receiver in New York City was atop the World Trade Center.
Minutes later when the second plane hit the South Tower, for a second or two, I thought it was tape coverage of the first plane, but quickly realized the first hole was still there. I blinked hard twice to make sure.
In the midst of the newsgathering vortex I realized that three feet to my right author Amy Tan was still sitting in the newsroom waiting to go live to promote her new book. She seemed stunned by the swirling maelstrom around her. Her appearance on CNN would wait for another day.
An hour later, when the first tower collapsed, the newsroom was jolted into near silence. We had several teams of reporters, producers and camera crews in the area. Instantly I knew I had to account for the whereabouts and safety of all of them. Many began phoning in with information. I put a check mark next to their name once someone spoke to them. I realized quickly that I didn’t know where three producers were. I typed a text message on their pagers asking if they were okay and to please acknowledge the message. Two did right away, though one inadvertently didn’t sign their name so I wasn’t sure who had responded. It felt like hours, not minutes before producer Shannon Troetel phoned in to say she too was OK.
Then suddenly in the words of Yogi Berra, it was “déjà vu all over again.” The second tower collapsed. A second headcount began. This time my heart was further up my throat. It took longer to get that last acknowledgment. I kept saying to myself “Come on Shannon: call, beep, anything!” She did and I turned to Karen Curry, the bureau chief, to report fortunately everyone was accounted for.
From the first minutes of the crisis I was on another open conference line with headquarters in Atlanta and our Washington bureau: a plane had slammed into the Pentagon, all aircraft nation-wide were being grounded, a fourth plane was perhaps headed for the White House or Camp David. I reported that New York City was being sealed off.
The hours flew by. It was a tsunami of editorial information and logistical details. We were offered astounding pictures of the planes slamming into the buildings from almost every angle imaginable. Each set of pictures was more incredible than the last.
Reflecting on it over the years, my memories play back alternately in fast-forward and in slow motion. I had been to Bosnia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland and places where war looked more like a traditional war. This war was indescribable. It was on my doorstep-visible from the office and just over a mile from my apartment.
Seven years later, I work in Washington, where the first of the permanent memorials will be unveiled on Thursday at the Pentagon.
September 11, 2001 remains a solemn and powerful memory.
Filed under: September 11th Anniversary
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