Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent.Often the story behind a news article is just as (and sometimes more) interesting than the finished product the public reads. This is the behind the scene story of the time I covered a plane crash for the newspaper.
It was about 8:30 p.m. and I was still at a Niles village board meeting. The trustees had already gone through most of the important business on the agenda and were now talking in circles about companies that were bidding for the village’s information technology contract.
As my mind began to wander, I decided to check the twitter app on my phone. The third tweet from the top was a bulletin that there had been accident at the Chicago Executive Airport about 20 minutes north of me.
I looked at my watch. Reports I found online were secondhand and sketchy, but they all agreed that the plane had gone down around 8:20 p.m. From what I could tell there weren’t any broadcast jockeys or other print reporters on the scene yet. I turned around and looked at the other journalists that were covering the Niles meeting. They were busy taking notes and I was pretty sure they didn’t know a plane had crashed nearby.
After looking up the fastest route to the crash I quickly packed my belongings into my messenger bag and left the village boardroom, walking quickly to my car. Once I was behind the wheel I gunned the gas and tuned the radio to WBBM to see if there was any more info on the crash.
No one was saying anything other that the crash had happened west of the airport. No report of fatalities, no damage. Nothing. I texted my editor to tell him I was on my way to the scene.
Once there I saw that police had blocked road traffic towards the residential neighborhood where the plane had come down. So I drove around until I found an industrial parking lot adjacent to the crash site. I parked, checked my camera’s battery, looked at the charge my phone and then put my placard press credential on my car’s dashboard before speed walking towards the crash.
I cut through the industrial building’s parking lot and sniffed the air for anything burning. Nothing, just sirens and flashing police lights in the distance.
When I finally got to the crash site I began live tweeting what I saw. I talked to people who were standing around gawking at the aircraft, which had slammed into the pavement about 500 feet from an apartment complex. It was amazing that no one was hurt, not even the pilot. After I got some eyewitness accounts I walked over to the police tape and tried to get some more info from the officers. They weren’t too helpful when it came to answering my questions but they did tell me a press conference was going to happen in a few minutes.
I thanked them, got some unofficial quotes from one officer who wished not to be named, and kept on live tweeting my coverage. It was around then that my editor had gotten back to me, asking if there were fatalities. I told him no. He then asked me to write something up on it quickly so they could get it online.
After that exchange the other broadcast jockeys and print journalists began to arrive and set up their cameras. A deputy fire chief gave a quick run down of what he and the other officials knew and then said they weren’t going to move the plane until the FAA or NTSB showed up.
I hung around for about an hour after that. I talked to some more people from the neighborhood and the tow service charged with moving the wreckage before I head back to my car. I gave my editor the heads up that I was done at the scene and he told me to get to the nearest Wi-Fi and put it in my newspapers’ FTP drop box ASAP. After driving 15 minutes east I came to a bar.
I went in and asked the bartender if the establishment had Wi-Fi. He said yes. So I asked him to give me a Miller light and the network’s password. He obliged.
I rushed through my phone’s notes and my twitter updates to put together a story. I began uploading everything I had to the FTP and ordered some chicken wings and a Diet Coke. I ate while my camera’s stills and video uploaded to the newspaper’s server. After my meal I packed up my stuff and headed to my car for the drive home. It was 1 a.m. and I was ready to pass out.
As I was leaving the bar two drunk guys walked up to me asking why I had a bag and began teasing me about it. I told them I was a reporter and that I had just finished covering a plane crash nearby. They both looked at me shocked. I told them no one had died. They agreed that was a good thing.
The more I told them about the crash the more sober they became. Finally one of them asked if I just drive around to “stay on top of things.” I told him that was more or less is what I tried to do. The other one then looked at me and said “So I guess you must be heading to the Chicago Tribune now huh?”
I nodded and with a smile told them that I was just wanted to go to bed right now.
They high-fived me and then went into the bar. I got into my car and began the drive back to the city, to my mattresses, so I could pass out. Ω