In the news biz, we're pretty big on anniversaries, especially if there was tragedy involved. Did something bad happen 1, 5, 10, 20 or 25 years ago? We'll be sure to remind you. Did it happen, say, 7 years ago? No need to mention it now. Just wait a few more years.
I bring it up because yesterday, July 17, marked 10 years since the crash of TWA Flight 800. The plane exploded over Long Island, shortly after takeoff from JFK. It was headed to Paris, carrying 230 people, including 21 from the Montoursville area. They were 16 students and five chaperones on a class trip to Paris. Another passenger on the plane graduated from the same high school I did, a year ahead of me. I didn't know him well, but I certainly knew of him - he played sports and his red hair made him hard to miss. He and his wife were going to Paris to celebrate their 5-year wedding anniversary.
But, of course, it was Montoursville that got most of the attention. When 21 people from a small community perish, it's not just a local story. It's national news. And, the national news came to Montoursville in droves with their satellite trucks and their unfamiliar reporters. Apparently, they made quite an impression. Our reporter who covered last night's memorial service said many people in Montoursville refused to talk to him on camera because they still resent they way they were treated by the national media.
As for me, the night Flight 800 crashed stands out, even 10 years later. I can remember looking up at the TV monitors in the newsroom as the networks did special reports soon after the crash. The vivid image of the wreckage burning in the night-darkened water off Long Island. Another vivid image of this tragedy came later, as we told the stories of the students and chaperones from Montoursville. We acquired home video, I think, of one of the students, a girl, competing in the high jump for the school's track team. I'm petty sure she cleared the bar. I don't know how many times we showed those pictures - more than once, I'm sure - and I still remember it.
I recall it being late, maybe even after the 11PM news was over, when we learned that people from Montoursville were on the plane. I think we got a tip call or two, then had to confirm the information. Our sports guy helped out with that, and he may have been the one to get the confirmation we needed.
I remember sending our two nitebeat reporters and their photographers, who had already worked full shifts, to Montoursville, some 90-minutes away from the station. At that hour of night, I didn't know what they would manage to gather for the morning newscasts, but we had to try.
Finally, I remember that we interrupted Nightline to go on with a special report with the information about Montoursville. We didn't know a lot of specifics at that point, but we had to report what we knew. It was the best we could do.