Veteran journalists describe reporting from Ground Zero

Marina McGowan

Two veteran journalists who were at Ground Zero minutes after the hijacked airliners slammed into the World Trade Center, described their experience during a symposium held at Quinnipiac University on Feb. 27.
“It is feasible to say that no single event in our lifetime generated a greater value of work in our news department,” said Richard Pyle, an Associated Press reporter. “The truth was that none of us knew what lay ahead.”
Pyle and Associated Press photographer Richard Drew provided information and dramatic photos of Ground Zero, including some never published. The symposium was held in the Mancheski Seminar Room.
Pyle, who previously worked in the AP Washington Bureau covering the Vietnam War, was in New York City when the terrorists struck. He described the incident from when the first plane hit to the reactions and the aftermath.
“I was half expecting, and hoping, that the World Trade towers would be there. The second fireball erased any doubt that this was an accident,” said Pyle.
He described to inquisitive students and faculty what the scene was like. Pyle said that the debris and ash was spread throughout the surrounding area and on those running out of the towers. “Some looked as if they aged thirty years in five minutes. Maybe some had,” he said.
There was a patriotic testament among the people. Pyle explained that it was hard to find a place in New York City that did not have a flag flying. “You didn’t have to like the World Trade Center, but the towers were inescapable.”
According to Pyle, there were approximately 2,600 confirmed deaths, 160 still missing, and still some that can not be identified. “Whatever the final casualty count, it will never diminish the agony for the victims’ families,” he said.
Pyle said that although workers have already removed over one acre of debris, the FBI is still unable to locate the black boxes from the two jetliners.
The FBI have continued to take aerial photographs at Ground Zero and distributed photographs of the black boxes in case anyone recognizes them.
“Without the cockpit voice recorders nobody will ever know what exactly happened on the plane. If they find the black boxes, it may help to find the terrorists and to see if there are plans for future attacks,” Pyle said.
Drew, who previously worked at Pasadena State News, traveled around the world visiting mundane and exotic places alike. On the morning of Sept. 11, Drew was at another location taking photographs when he received the call from his editor that the Twin Towers had been struck by a plane.
Unaware of the seriousness of the situation, he packed up his things and took what was apparently the last train to New York.
As soon as he arrived on scene, there were people scrambling everywhere. He then began to take photographs of everything that was going on around him.
Two hundred and fifteen frames later, Drew caught shots of overturned cars, falling debris, and rescue workers.
Drew’s photograph of a man falling from the WTC won him the Prestigious World Press Photo Award.
Pyle and Drew described the difficulties they encountered on that Tuesday morning. They said that every time they cover stories such as this one, they must put up a “shield,” which in Drew’s case was a camera. They agreed that it was important to maintain composure and concentrate on their work.
“I’ve seen and heard Richard Pyle and Richard Drew talk about the challenge of covering the World Trade Center disaster, and it was something I will never forget. You had to be there to appreciate the devastation, the chaos, and the acts of heroism. Drew’s photos make you gasp,” said Paul Janensch.
Janensch, associate professor of communications and Chairman of the 9-11 Committee, helped organize this educational program to help students and others learn from the tragedy.
He saw both Pyle and Drew make a presentation at a conference of New England newspaper editors in Providence in December.
“I was profoundly moved when I first saw their presentation in Providence,” he said.
“The room was full of veteran newspaper editors, all of whom had been involved in stories of death and destruction. But they sat stunned when Richard Drew showed his photos, and the only sound I heard was an occasional gasp.”
Previously, the 9-11 Committee put on another major forum regarding “The Muslim World and Terrorism.” The Committee supports other programs, such as the conference on bioterrorism in the School of Health Sciences, which is on Mar. 7, and the special course on “Terrorism and the Law” at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays in the School of Law.
“The most important way members of the faculty can respond to Sept. 11 is to incorporate relevant materials into their regular courses when appropriate,” Janensch said.