Hominy & Hash
WHEN NEW YORK NEWS HITS HOME
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Is it only when I go to New York City that these high-profile news events take place, or is it because in New York, we see and hear firsthand news accounts on the street all day? Here, there's always something going on.
On an earlier visit, I looked out my hotel window and saw emergency vehicles and police after a cyclist tossed a homemade bomb toward a building with offices leased to the British Embassy. It only chipped a granite flowerpot, but it brought out the troops in full regalia. On this visit, I was close enough to see the smoke pouring from the building where a light plane crashed into the 31st floor. Our first instinct was to find a television screen and find out what was happening but not before we got out of the city. The roads would soon be gridlocked. It was just a 20-minute bus ride over the 59th St. Bridge but the tv stations were already live on the breaking story. That he knew nothing in detail didn't stop the anchorman from conjecturing all through the realm of possibilities until some facts finallyunfolded. Indeed, a light airplane crashed into the building, "but," interrupted the co-anchor, "it might be a helicopter." "Yes," said the newscaster, "it could be a helicopter." She was both speaking off the top of her head and reading what was just ripped from the wire services. It's one thing to feel secure delivering breaking news from Iraq since no one will question whether each "t" is crossed and each "i" dotted; but, when viewers and newscasters alike can look out the window and see for themselves, even the best of them get rattled. They didn't know how many people were on the plane but they knew they couldn't have survived. That's what they said. Eye-witness accounts were consistent in reporting a zig-zag pattern of flight before the crash, supposedly indicating a pilot trying to gain control of the plane as it descended - not a spiral, a definite zig-zag. The reporters kept talking - no dead air on these newscasts - and with fresh copy off the wires, spoke of the last time a plane crashed into a skyscraper: 1940's, the Empire State Building. As it happens, I saw that incident from the same vantage point in Queens, where the city skyline offers a spectacular view from many corners. But that was over 60 years ago, was not a common occurrence, and systems are in place to prevent it from being a constant threat. The reports continued with live coverage interspersed with "earlier footage" of the smoke streaming from the building. The worker on that floor froze as he saw the plane coming toward him, saw the pilot, bolted out and sped down in the elevator to safety, ignoring the admonition never to take an elevator in such a fiery situation.
The bystanders below said their first thought was a terrorist attack. Yet, there was no visible sign of panic. They kept looking up. They would hold their chests and gasp "not again" but wouldn't run, they froze, observed and spoke into a microphone when one was held to their lips. Still there was no report as to whether it was a plane or a helicopter. There was lots of guessing, though.. "Propeller blades would have hit before a motor," they said on the street, "so it must have been a plane." Finally, a consensus emerged that a light plane with two, perhaps four people on board, had crashed. It took off from New Jersey but was no flight plan was filed or no one knew who was flying the craft. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor George Pataki and President Bush himself all hastened to announce there was no a terrorist attack. They didn't yet know what it was, but said definitively, "It was an accident." They each spoke in a calm and reassuring manner, noting "there was no intelligence" that suggested an imminent attack. Somehow, I was more reassured when I could see for myself that it was an accident. I was confident that the men on the street got it right as they assessed the situation before their eyes. When we depend on "intelligence" alone, we put ourselves in position to say, "I never saw it coming." But all athe gencies that prepare for any eventuality were now deployed in full force, working together, communicating as they have been trained to do, waiting with motors running to take injured, no matter how many, to better facilities to continue care that was begun at the site, and to be prepared for any follow-up attacks, if any. Tragically, it was practice, shall we say, for the security forces. But the question was on everyone's lips as to whether or not this flight, unrecorded, could also have been a practice run by terrorists - not as suicides to damage but as scouts in the planning stage. In New York, you can't help but think that way. Always wary since 9/11, not wanting to be caught off guard again, New Yorkers have become more alert to possibilities. It was not just another day in New York, but as something out of anyone's control, it was accepted. They were surprised and inconvenienced, but they were accepting. They weren't crying over the accident, shall I say. Even if it were an attack, it would have been against the United States and not New York in particular. Then it was announced: Cory Lidle, New York Yankee pitcher, was in (and probably piloting) the small craft. Now, it became personal. The news went from the streets of New York to Yankee Stadium, and we saw reel after reel of Cory Lidle pitching, running bases, smiling at the fans, laughing with other players, talking about his new airplane and the thrill of flying. They interviewed his crying, distraught mother-in-law. The news was out before official notification went to his wife and young son. Now, New Yorkers cried. This crash took one of them; this was personal; this was their Yankee. The immediate question was whether the New York Mets would cancel their game that night as a memorial tribute, but the decision was taken out of their hands when the skies opened up cried. It's been reported Lidle and his flight instructor took off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, circled the Statue of Liberty, and headed north toward Yankee Stadium. It was overcast, but the trouble was that he was flying at 110 mph, too slow to keep that light plane aloft - thus the zig-zag fall as the pilot worked to keep it aloft. The slow speed was listed as the predominant factor in bringing the plane down. Cory Lidle was new to the Yankees, having been traded to the team as recently as July - but the fans loved him. He was at home on that diamond in the House that Ruth built.
It is only fitting that he planned to fly overhead one more time, before taking off into the wide blue yonder.