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February 13th, 2009
03:30 PM ET

Breaking news in the middle of the night

Firefighters from nine volunteer fire departments battled the flames at the crash site.

Firefighters from nine volunteer fire departments battled the flames at the crash site.

Jack Gray
AC360° Associate Producer

I had just sat down at 12:30am to write my Friday blog when I got an email from AC360° Executive Producer Kathleen Friery: “You up? Plane crash. May need you to come back in.” I started to get ready. Confirmation that I was needed back at CNN’s New York headquarters came moments later.

I said goodbye to my dog, ran out of my apartment and hailed a cab. “Columbus Circle,” I said, “as fast as you can.”

“Did you hear about the plane crash?” I asked my cab driver. He hadn’t.

As we sped uptown I dialed into the network-wide conference call that goes into effect during breaking news. Reports from the scene indicated everyone on board and one person on the ground had died. 50 souls.

Anderson was already there by the time I got back to CNN. At that point coverage was being run out of our Atlanta headquarters with help from our upstate New York affiliates. We made final preparations for Anderson to take over the coverage from New York.

The network was quickly mobilizing staff and resources but because of the time of night we didn’t immediately have a full staff on hand. For a while I was playing the roles of producer, camera operator and audio technician. Meantime, colleagues in New York, Atlanta, Washington and points elsewhere were teaming up to make our coverage the most thorough and accurate it could be.

As Anderson said on the air, in situations like these information comes in rapidly and frequently changes. Thus, caution is essential. The last thing we want is to add to people’s grief by broadcasting misinformation.

In the midst of it all, I tried to wrap my mind around what had happened. Tried but failed. That kind of tragedy is unimaginable. To lose a loved one in that way is not just unfair it’s cruel. Those people didn’t do anything. They didn’t deserve to die. Just like that. Gone forever. Their families left behind with lifelong voids in their hearts.

At 3am we moved our location from the newsroom set upstairs to our main studio. We stayed on the air until handing off to the American Morning team at 4am.

For us, an exhausting night had come to an end. But for the families and friends of those on board Flight 3407, a devastating journey was just beginning.

I left the CNN building shortly thereafter and headed home….my mind on those who perished and their dreams that shall go unfulfilled.

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Megan Dresslar - Shoreline, WA

    Hellooo Jack!
    I was out of town, When I checked my e-mail and turn up my computer, I saw it was CNN breaking news, plane crashed into the house, I was so devastated and shock to hear bad news……. My thoughts and prayers with A Continental plane victim of families, I felt so bad for them who died on the plane crash into house…… My heart breaking for them!!!!
    Jack and Anderson,
    I like to say thank you to step in right away to breaking news in US to tell the audience that Continental plane crashed into the house. I am so appericate what you have a done for us…… I am so proud both of you…… Thanks so much for information….. I will check more update the plane crash and how happened on CNN.
    I am thankful to be there for victim of families who lost loves ones, I am thinking about them....... 😦

    February 16, 2009 at 3:47 am |
  2. Paul, Buffalo

    As a lifelong resident of the Buffalo area I, along with probably much of the Buffalo area population, have a connection to people directly impacted by this tragedy. Buffalo has taken its more than fair share of abuse over the years for a variety of reasons but I can honestly say that today I know why I continue to proudly call Buffalo my home – the people.

    Tragedies like this reveal community's true character. Our community will pull together, support one another and get through this. It is the people of this area that make it special. We may not be the most economically vibrant area, have the greatest weather or the flashiest image but we have something that not many other areas in this "all about me era" do-people that care about each other.

    My prayers and sympathies go out to all those directly effected by this horrible event.

    February 13, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
  3. Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    Jack: On one hand, I'm glad it wasn’t a full flight, on the other, it's sad that lives were lost in such a tragic way. It always makes you wonder why. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts. As a viewer, I appreciate the dedication you, Anderson, and CNN have at insuring we get the information as accurately and quickly as possible no matter what time of the night it is. Thanks.

    February 13, 2009 at 10:14 pm |
  4. Don, WA

    I think that a part of all of us boarded that plane...and a part of all of them is within all of us. This is why we try to wrap our brains around it...and fail. Treat people well, because we're all related, and you just never know when the last time you'll see someone comes. Their families will remember them each day, and I hope they find some peace in that in time.

    February 13, 2009 at 9:01 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    Hi Jack

    I tuned in this morning when I couldn't sleep to find Anderson still on – I was surprised but then horrified to find out why he was still on. Anderson did a wonderful job covering this breaking news and he and all the team deserve an "atta boy" for your work. The story itself was so terrible – the last plane crash I remember watching at night was the one in Lockerbie Scotland. Lockerbie seems like an eternity ago now but both of these crashes remind you of just how fleeting life can be and what anguish a death leaves behind.

    February 13, 2009 at 8:37 pm |
  6. Jen, Ohio

    Jack,
    Great Post. Great work by you and the CNN crew. Your post resonates beyond this tragedy. I'm a school counselor in a high school where we tragically lost two students recently, and this post made me think of the "dreams that shall go unfulfilled." We should all take the time now to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have our loved ones here with us, and remember how quickly they can be gone. Thank you for your wonderful and thoughtful post today.

    February 13, 2009 at 8:04 pm |
  7. Lori from IL

    Great post today Jack. A different side of Jack Gray, but the situation certainly called for it. A tragedy such as this is hard to wrap one's head around.

    Thanks for the behind the scenes info - I can just envision you racing back to CNN and Anderson already being there - you two ( and the rest of the crew) are very talented and dedicated individuals. Sounds like a "fly by the seat of your pants" situation - and those often bring out the best in us. Your coverage was supurb. I had switched over to watch the second half of Larry King - couldn't believe what I was seeing - then pretty soon, there was Anderson back on the air. What a great job – asking questions, in a serious but caring tone.

    My prayers go out to the families and friends of those who lost loved ones - may they find healing in the days ahead. Losing a loved one is never easy – and a tragedy such as this reminds us all how fragile life really is. That's why it's important we remember to take every opportunity to tell our loved ones just how we feel.

    February 13, 2009 at 7:14 pm |
  8. renee, nashville, tn

    Thank you for your dedication and the integrity of the AC 360 crew and staff.

    February 13, 2009 at 7:00 pm |
  9. Rikki, Fargo, ND

    Jack, I hadn't heard about the plane crash until I just walked in the door from work about a half hour ago (I don't turn the TV on in the morning and we have nothing resembling a TV or news at work). CNN continues to amaze and impress me! You have an incredible staff that is always willing to step up when needed. Thanks!

    My thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathy go out to the victims and their families. I can't imagine what they're going through and I hope that nobody ever has to know that kind of grief. It is, as you said, cruel and unfair. It is one of those events that teaches you to never, ever take anything for granted.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Jack.

    February 13, 2009 at 6:57 pm |
  10. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    So sad. My prayers are with all who lost last night. Today is super sad for me. It's the anniversary of my maternal grandfather's death. I worshipped him growing up. It's also the anniversary of the deaths of a family friend and her young daughter who were killed in a car accident. I was nine when they died and her son survived. I always pray super hard for him on this day. I cannot imagine the anniversary of the death of your mom and baby sister rolled into one really suck ass flood of hurt every year. I am so sorry another community will be haunted by the memory of tragedy and that so many will be saddened by such a horrific loss and anniversary ever year now.

    February 13, 2009 at 6:46 pm |
  11. Sam M. Ewa Beach, HI

    Yea I was watching you guys last night at 3am eastern time/12am western. You guys did a great job bringing in information and showing the audio tape on air. Thank you.

    It truly is a sad event and my prayers go out to all victims and their families. I can't believe it either.

    February 13, 2009 at 6:32 pm |
  12. biba

    I saw the tragic news a little bit after 12am when i was jus getting ready to watch Larry King live...I could not believe it, i found myself changing the channels and going online to confirm that what i was hearing was actually true...information came slowly but unfortunately no good news, no survivors...Life is so fragile...my thoughts and prayers to the families and friends.

    February 13, 2009 at 4:44 pm |
  13. Terra Hoskins

    Jack–yeah, my heart is really heavy today.

    One thing I really appreciated, though, was the former pilot who described what happens when you are flying under certain conditions. People are grasping for answers–why did this happen–and although this pilot said he doesn't have the answers, he can tell us what he's experienced. For some reason, I found that helpful. But the sadness isn't going anywhere for awhile.

    February 13, 2009 at 3:50 pm |
  14. Helen, Reading, UK

    Hi Jack

    We heard about the crash this morning, what a terrible tragedy. The thoughts and prayers of people in the UK will no doubt be with the friend & families of those who lost their lives.
    I lost my Mum 7 years ago yesterday, unfortunately time doesn't make the hurt go away..
    Try and have a good weekend – probably the last thing on your mind, I know.

    Helen xx

    February 13, 2009 at 3:08 pm |
  15. Matthew, IA

    Jack,

    What happened last night was truly a tragedy, and you and your team should be commended.

    I myself had watched the live hour of AC360 and was headed to bed as the news broke. I thought it was unusual that the coverage was being run without an anchor, and I realized that everybody at CNN must have gone home for the night. I kept watching once Anderson took back over, and thought that the team must have left and been called back.

    I find it extremely interesting – and I am sure that others do as well. I am wondering if you could talk a little bit about how many people are working at CNN during the overnight shift. Also, I noticed that there were numerous points where CNN-International seemed to take over coverage, at least for a short while. I am wondering if that happened simply because they were up and on-line at the time, or if there are other reasons.

    At any rate, you folks did a terrific job last night, and thank you for pulling an all-nighter to bring us the news.

    February 13, 2009 at 3:04 pm |
  16. Jennifer - Michigan

    Hi Jack,
    Thanks for all your hard work with this terrible news. It is such a tragedy – Poof, and then that's it....terribly sad.
    I've been having dreams of plane crashes recently, it scares me because sometimes it actually happens. ???? Years ago I had dreamed about a spectacular plane explosion over the water (it was so real in my dream); then I was horrified when it actually happened weeks later with Flight 800 – so terrible. My heart goes out to the victims. What a mess!
    Betty Ann brings up some interesting questions in her post.......I think that we are here to laugh, cry, love, and share the time that we have together with each other in this life. Learn to appreciate the moment (here and now) because that's all we have anyway. I don't know?
    Have a good weekend, take care.

    February 13, 2009 at 2:57 pm |
  17. Cal-G

    Back in the mid-'80s, I worked in the newsroom of an L.A. radio station as a newswriter, and it's pieces like these that make me miss working in news - the urgency, the drama, the deadlines, the excitement. (I left showbiz and became a legal secretary - a good living, but nowhere near as exciting.) This is not to make light of tragedy, but for those who work in news, it's the energy that's thrived upon. Kudos to Jack, Anderson and the CNN staff.

    February 13, 2009 at 2:45 pm |
  18. vanessa, TX

    hey jack I just heard the sad news....it was so tragic and unexpected. We were all on the "Sully" high that when things like these happen it kinda puts everything in perspective you know, about life and tragedies that happen like this. I didn't hear about the crash until this morning. We have the TV on here @ work and since the inauguration we've had it tuned in to CNN. I would like to say kudos to CNN crew especially you guys, AC 360 crew cuz I heard you guys broke the news first. My thoughts and prayers are w/ the family members of the people who perished.

    Thanx again to you Jack for all the updates, and Anderson for keeping us up to date

    I hope you guys get some rest and I look forward to seeing you guys well rested tonight

    February 13, 2009 at 2:23 pm |
  19. Vicky, Ottawa

    Jack, Glad to hear you were feeling better and up to the challenge last night! I apparently fell asleep while watching AC360 last night, and awoke at about 1:30 am to see Anderson reporting on the crash and to see the horrible pictures from the scene. I was and am just heartsick for the families, and what they will go through in the next days and weeks... there will always be a void in their lives, and it's difficult to think of a loved one dying in such an accident. It's hard to say anything that doesn't sound trite at times such as this.

    I almost always fly in Dash 8's (300 and 100 series), and recently flew in a Q400, with the pilot announcing it was the first flight for that parictular plane. As in Buffalo, we have pretty challenging weather in Canada, and I know sometimes I've wondered whether I should be flying, and have experienced 3 flights where landings had to be aborted, with eventual decisions to proceed to an alternate landing site after some tense moments circling airports. Am always glad when the pilot asks for de-icing befor take-off. I'm wondering how airlines and pilots make decisions about whether to take off in bad weather, and just how much information they receive about weather conditions at their destination airport.

    February 13, 2009 at 2:19 pm |
  20. CHERYL

    its so sad about flight 3407 god bless all the familys of NEW YORK.

    February 13, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  21. Dee from CT

    Words don't seem to do justice when something like this happens. The boundless why questions; the horrific loss of any life – especially in circumstances like this – is just heartbreaking, and when you hear stories, like that of the 9-11 widow passenger, your soul breaks a little more.

    Prayers for those that are no longer walking amongst us, and condolences and sympathies for the families and loved ones left behind.

    The staff, on-air and otherwise, does a remarkable job day after day – however, moments like this demonstrate the dedication you all have for your craft. Ideal post Jack, I hope you all are able to get some much needed, physical and mental, respite.

    February 13, 2009 at 1:42 pm |
  22. Michelle Johnson, Lomita, CA

    Hi Jack. You worked so hard and are so dedicated. I am tearful as I just saw the story on CNN online; you are right there in the area, reporting this shocking tragedy as it happens, doing several jobs at once, and all in the middle of the night. Add exhaustion and not feeling so well on top of all that, and the sorrow must seem overwhelming. We all appreciate the wonderful job you do, but please don't make yourself too sick working so hard. We don't understand why these terrible things happen, but trust in God; He is still good in spite of the devils' work. Please take care of yourself.

    February 13, 2009 at 1:38 pm |
  23. Bev C Town of Tonawanda, NY

    Around 11:30 last night, my daughter came downstairs to tell me to put our local TV stations on as there was a plane crash in Clarence Center. I live in a suburb of Buffalo not too far from where the plane crashed. After a short while I turned on CNN and the news was already on your network (International). CNN did a great job and I learned information that I wasn't getting from my local news channels. We are all in shock in Western New York that this even happened. We have not had a plane crash at our airport, either taking off or landing – ever. May God welcome all those poor souls into his embrace!

    February 13, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  24. Keri

    Hey, Jack. Thank you for your post. Yes, a very sad thing, and My heart goes out to everyone. I am not trying to be funny – but do you really write your blogs at 12:30 in the middle of the night?

    February 13, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  25. Fay - California

    Jack, the entire CNN team should be commended for the excellent and comprehensive coverage on this tragedy – Anderson did a great job with bringing us the necessary facts while being very careful about confirming whatever information that was coming in before relaying it to viewers. The range of on the scene witnesses and experts made it difficult to stop watching even at such a late hour – it was particularly interesting to listen to the former pilot's (John Tillman?) observations and analysis of the crash.

    My condolences to the family members and friends of the passengers and crew of Flight 3407.

    February 13, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  26. Isabel Abreu, Brazil

    Hi, Jack!

    Very sad your post. I do not know if I read too fast, but I believe it was hence tone of the dramatic situation. My heart beat strong and tight.

    I just saw the news early in the morning here, more or less, when you left the air.

    Losing a person in an accident is so terrible, swift, shocking, frightening. The person was not there and back.

    I offer all my sympathy to the families who lost their loved ones. There isn't much more to offer, these hours.

    This is the second plane that crashed in the US in less than a month.
    You will, tonight, something about it?
    But why these things happen? Lack of maintenance? Excess in the air traffic?
    People who are forced to ride a plane, are at risk?

    Bye and good luck to all!

    February 13, 2009 at 12:17 pm |
  27. Eugenia - San Francisco

    As if the "people" of New York have not suffered enough, to have to go through this is unimaginable. My heart and tears go out to you all.

    February 13, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  28. BettyAnn, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hi Jack,
    I was up last night when the news bulletin can over the air. I saw the fire and I went numb. All those lives vanishing in an instant.
    It made me sick. I have flown continental express on several occasions and always felt perfectly safe.
    We never know, do we?
    What's it all about anyway? We are all thrown into this life together and it is up to us to make of it what we will. Who knows why.
    I believe that we are here to make this world better. Maybe it is a test. I hope I pass.
    It is really difficult to understand all the suffering in the world. We live, we experience, we love, and then "poof" it's over.
    Thanks for all your work all night long. Thanks to Anderson and crew too! Sometimes your jobs are really depressing but you so such a service you should be proud.
    Take care and get some rest~
    I appreciate your sensitive blog.
    All the best~
    XO's
    Betty Ann

    February 13, 2009 at 11:53 am |
  29. EJ (USA)

    Hi Jack,

    The report came out of CNN (at least to viewers) shortly after midnight – after the 2nd hour/rerun of 360. I had wondered if you all had gone home – or if you were already there in the studio.

    Anderson had gone home and come back? I saw him 1st broadcast around 1am I think. I actually planned to be sleeping for once but I had to listen to some of the news.

    Just very tragic. At the beginning of '09 – you always wonder what kinds of things will happen this year.

    Well – take care of yourself Jack. You all did great considering how much information was changing and being updated. I am sure the families and friends appreciated the updates and being told what numbers to call.

    February 13, 2009 at 11:50 am |
  30. Erin Collins

    Thank you to CNN from a Buffalonian for being responsible, ethical journalists and doing your best to report accurate information. The last thing people need in a time like this is sensationalism from the media. The mood in Buffalo this morning is somber, everyone is still taking it all in. Please keep the friends and family members of victims in your prayers, this tragedy will effect our tight-knit community more than most outsiders can understand.

    February 13, 2009 at 11:37 am |
  31. Pamina

    Hi Jack,
    I am saddened by the news of the plane crash in Buffalo. I lived in Rochester up until last year, so I know the area well. My thoughts go out to the families of those on the plane and in the house.

    February 13, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  32. Steve

    Very sobering blog post Jack, I really enjoy your "lighter side" take on things, but it's nice to see a more serious post when events of the day warrant it.

    Thanks for the behind the scenes look.

    -Steve

    February 13, 2009 at 10:57 am |
  33. Carrie Bradshaw, Upper East Side

    Wow, Jack,

    Thanks for the update. Always interested to hear the behind the scenes wokings of the program. I can just imagine what goes through your mind when you get that call. It is never good news.

    Hope you are able to get some rest now that the others have taken over the coverage. I just turned on the TV to hear about the tragedy. My heart goes out to those affected, including the 360 crew. My friend from Paris emailed to alert me to the fact that Anderson was reporting live on CNN/I at 2am. Figured you guys had been called back. Please take care, we know that you are still re-cooperating.

    Amazing job you all did. Surely once again you have proven yourself to be a "Jack of all trades". Heh. Sorry, thought maybe you could use a little chuckle.

    All The Best Jack to you, Anderson and the gang. Love you guys.

    February 13, 2009 at 10:35 am |
  34. Lilibeth

    I am so sad to hear about all this, Jack. My prayers and condolences to all affected by this tragedy. Thank you, Jack, Anderson, and everyone at CNN for all you do.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    February 13, 2009 at 10:27 am |
  35. Teresa, OH

    Jack, thanks for the insight into the life of CNN staff... I learned some
    things from this article.

    My condolences to family and friends of all concerned.

    ...re: " ….my mind on those who perished and their dreams that shall go unfulfilled." While any of our loved ones leaving before what we deem to be thier time on earth with us is through is painful, I truly believe that while thier dreams may SEEM unfulfilled– thier PURPOSE on this Earth was COMPLETE.

    February 13, 2009 at 10:07 am |
  36. affrodite.net

    Followed AC 360 tweet to this post...
    I enjoyed reading this as a journalist myself (not nearly at this level of fame yet). The rush despite the fatigue to get the news out to people. I love the way you ended this post acknowledging that your exhausting night essentially pales in comparison as these victims families continue to this very moment searching for details, making travel plans, notifying family and friends, making funeral plans, and all the while in disbelief and deep grief about the events of not even 24 hours ago at this point.

    My heart, my prayers, my deepest sympathies go out to the passengers and flight crew.

    February 13, 2009 at 10:04 am |
  37. Michelle

    Jack, you, Anderson and the crew did an outstanding job.
    I could not turn away. That explains the single shot in the
    newsroom and not the studio.My prayers go out to the families.

    February 13, 2009 at 10:01 am |
  38. Brandi - bottom of the boot

    Hello Jack,

    Good work last night by all of you. I was still watching CNN when the news first came across. Then I was surprised to see Anderson back in the studio live.

    My prayers and sympathies to all who have been touched by this tragedy.

    No lighter note today. Doesnt seem suitable.

    God Bless.

    February 13, 2009 at 9:58 am |
  39. Michelle Fonthill,Ont

    Jack

    The news of the planhe crash spread so quickly .It was like a fireball in the sky.I heard someone descibe it felt like an earhtquake . I was one man whose sister was aboard this plane .I pray for thier families and the grief they are giong through I didn't know you were so good at multitasking Jack -jack of all trades i say! I hope you can get some rest and Anderson can get some rest too he works and works soo hard !!!
    p.s. Jack on a lighter note I read your blog that you posted the day you were sick and low and behold i got sick too my cold is making me feel awful thanks Jack !-ha! ha!

    Have a great sleep now !

    Michelle D.

    February 13, 2009 at 9:45 am |