Monday, September 15, 2008

The Chatsworth Train Wreck.

We always do well to expect the unexpected. I mean "we" being the folks who work in news. You know, maybe you should probably expect some of the unexpected too.

The train wreck on Friday caught me by surprise. I hate that. I don't know if I had just relaxed and fallen into a pattern where some much of nothing happened, that I stopped expecting anything at all to happen.

When the news of the train wreck hit the station, I was just starting my shift. My plans for the weekend were going to work out really well if I was able to "lunch out" early. It was a training day, so there was pretty good chances that I'd be doing just that.

Famous last words.

That plan got shot to hell about ten minutes into my shift.

Kerry Maller was moving crews. He canceled the training and had me take a SAT truck to the accident scene. Of course "to" really means "near" the accident scene. None of the media was getting any closer than a maybe a quarter mile and most were setting up shop about a half mile from where it actually happened.

Yellow crime scene tape to a journalist is like a cross to a vampire.

We were pretty lucky. All the crews somehow managed to make air by way of microwave. It worked out great for me. I was able to hike around and try to find a vantage point for ground video of the scene instead of being stuck in the SAT truck for hours.

It was difficult to find anything worthwhile. The shot of the rescue workers on ladders climbing around on the overturned train cars was worth the walk while it was still early in our coverage.

If you squint, you might be able to make out the SAT truck just to the left of the tree in the center of the photo. That was a pretty long walk with the camera just to grab a quick shot through a fence and some trees.

There were lots of small stories that weren't big enough for air, but I think deserve to be mentioned.

I let a guy make a call to his pregnant wife who was helping in the triage area. She never picked up. I can only hope she was okay.

A guy threw himself in front of my van to block me from crossing through a dirt field which he claimed was private property. He was waving police and rescue vehicles through. It would have only saved me about five minutes, but it was way more important to him than it was to me.

The Boy Scouts of America were there handing out water and bananas. That banana was the only thing I had to eat until after ten o'clock.

Right around 10pm, I got sent on a mission to find a guy who had shot some home video of the crash nearly right after it happened.

It took a small amount of jumping through hoops, but I finally caught up with the guy at his apartment a couple miles from the crash. He gave me a DVD of the footage he shot.

The SAT truck doesn't have a computer edit system, so I had no direct way of getting the footage off the DVD. Lucky for us, I carry my laptop with me. I was able to at least run the video and shoot it off my laptop screen.

You'll probably never see the unedited footage. It was far too graphic for airing on our channels.

Until I saw the home video, I have to admit, I felt mostly disconnected from the story. That happens when I'm half a mile away and can't see much of anything other than the cops keeping us back and the rescue workers as they trudged in and out of the area.

Seeing the raw video did a great job of pulling me in.

We are very fragile beings and it does hurt to see that for a fact. Not the kind of pain that you might feel if you were crushed by a railroad car. I can't imagine that sort of physical pain and I don't have any way of actually knowing how that feels. I only wish I didn't have such a clear view (on video) of what it even looks like up close.

Stories are still being told from the crash site. I may be involved in following the story today, but and all I can do is accept whatever I'm given for my next assignment.

For now, I'm on guard. That's the best way to keep from being surprised by unexpected emotions that pop up while doing the job we do.
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BellaKarma said...

Bryan, I was thinking about you on Friday. I just got the 'vibe' you were there; therefore, I was sending you positive energy, 'cos I knew it would have a heavy toll on you - anyone - everyone.

Please, let the news crew know how much I appreciated their coverage. Not a single reporter from KCAL9/CBS2 'sensationalize" the tragedy - everyone was so professional, yet compassionate.

Just curious: Who were you working with? I think I saw Carl with Juan.

beFrank said...

Thank you and I'll pass along the kind words to the other folks that were out there.

No reporter for me, I was flying solo in a SAT truck.

My big contribution for the day was in getting some home video (taken just after the wreck) sent back to the station.

darleene said...

Those stories aren't too small for me. You should've passed them on to the web with pictures, B!

We are fragile human beings, yes, but resilient and capable of powerful emotions and gestures. You doing your job as best as you can is just one of those grand gestures that always helps someone out, no matter who at the time is giving you grief.