[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/16/hudson.plane.crash/art.battery.gi.jpg caption="The disabled Airbus A320 is nearly submerged Friday as it is moored near New York's Battery Park City."]
CNN Field Producer
When news of a “plane down” in the Hudson River broke, everyone in the CNN New York Newsroom went into breaking news mode. From the Bureau Chief to producers to news assistants everyone picked up the phones and the coordination began. Being a CNN field producer I was eager to get out of the door and start reporting, I also knew the temperature was in the teens and wind chills in the single digits. With producers, reporters and live trucks dispatched to the scene and to various hospitals around the city, I wanted to make myself as useful as possible.
I picked up my gear - a Sony A1U video camera, Apple Mac Book and a wireless Air Card - and headed out the door. Often when you’re a one man/woman band you are able to be more nibble and find access to places and people a larger crew may not. At first I didn’t think it was that cold, but when I got to 43rd street and the West Side Highway, the wind whipping off the Hudson just cut right through me. My first thought was, how are these passengers going to survive without frostbite and, most frightening, hypothermia. I maneuvered through EMS, OEM, NYPD and FDNY trucks and tape to the pier where some of the passengers of flight 1549 were being treated and then taken to the hospital.
Our CNN live truck was further down the West Side Highway and cabling to my location for a live signal was not possible. With my hands getting numb I attempted setting up my DNG (Digital News Gathering) equipment up for live capability. It's essentially a laptop that can transmit to a satellite. Albert Lewitinn, a senior producer for Campbell Brown's "No Bias No Bull" was actually off yesterday, but being the solid journalist he is, he heard the news and made his way down to the site to lend a hand. I had Albert grab the camera as I worked the laptop, trying to lock a signal into CNN Headquarters in Atlanta. When you are covering a breaking news story no matter how big or small the story – time is of the essence. The bitter cold and driving wind made everything more difficult and time consuming. Eventually I got a clean signal into Atlanta and began to stream live video of passengers being escorted into ambulances. It was chaotic and it seemed as if every New Yorker with a still camera or video camera was on the scene trying to capture their own bit of news.
About 6pm, the assignment desk called, sending me to Battery Park City, at the southern tip of Manhattan and probably the coldest part of the city, even on a good day. The U.S Airways plane had drifted down the Hudson River and was now tethered to a wall there on the west side.
By this point I could not feel my face or fingers, regardless of the hat and gloves I had on. The West Side Highway was closed for at least 20 blocks southward. I remember on 9/11 hitching a ride out of ground zero with an EMS truck leaving the scene, I flashed my press pass and asked the driver for a ride as far south he was going. Technically, I am sure they are not supposed to do this but I think he saw the urgency and near frostbite on my face and he said, "get in." I got as far as he could take me and painfully got out of the truck knowing I would have to walk the rest of the way south along the dark river. It took 25 minutes to get down there. The whole time I was thinking about those 155 passengers aboard that plane and knew what I was experiencing was nothing compared to the day they were having.
After 4 hours of covering the plane crash I finally saw the plane, or I should say the left wing. On big stories like this, police keep reporters far back from the scene and casual onlookers even further back. And vehicle access to the area was frozen, so our satellite truck couldn't get close. I fired up my DNG equipment again and sent out a live picture of the plane's left wing sticking out of the water. It is hard to handle the computer and the camera with gloves on so I tried to work as fast a possible without them. After 20 minutes, I noticed a police officer escorting 2 still photographers and tv cameraman down to the plane for a better look. This was my chance. I weaseled my way into the mix with my laptop in one frozen hand and my camera in the other. As I walked down to the plane I knew I was going to get something good, and something others had not seen yet. And I did. I was able to shoot 8 minutes of tape of the remains of flight 1549 as it bobbed in the frigid, black Hudson River.
Afterward I knew I needed warmth. I jumped in a taxi and headed back to the bureau and within 30 minutes my video was on CNN: Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360 and then American Morning.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in covering a story and the logistics, that we don't fully react to events until later on. In the taxi back I took a moment to be thankful that all 155 passengers aboard flight 1549 made it out alive. And then I was warm again.
Filed under: Brian Vitagliano
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