Wednesday, September 19, 2001

THIS IS PERSONAL: Ottawa Daily Times

EDITORS NOTE: KANE FARABAUGH, a 1995 Ottawa Township High School graduate, is a reporter for CBS News and WOWK-TV out of West Virginia. He has been covering the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in a Pennsylvania field last Tuesday - shortly after three other hijacked jets slammed into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

It's been chaotic since Day One of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93. As a reporter for WOWK CBS 13 News in Charleston, W. Va., we were just one crew in a sea of media in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

Our coverage began Tuesday afternoon.

We got the call the plane went down just minutes after it crashed. The trip for us to get there from Charleston was just under four hours. By the time we arrived on scene, the stories of heroism on board the hijacked aircraft already began surfacing, and our job was to get to the bottom of the horrible disaster.

That task is easier said than done.

Police immediately sealed off the crash site, making the job of getting pictures difficult. Two television crews in the media pool with us attempted to cross the police line to get exclusive pictures, and were immediately arrested. Our first goal was to find eyewitnesses. It was Danny Purbaugh's first day of work at his new job. He was excavating near the crash site, and described the event in horrific detail.

"It was just coming down out of the sky and it made a nosedive right into the ground." He initially thought the plane was a mail carrier because of the paper debris around the wreck.

The rest of us already knew it was a passenger aircraft.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania State Police arranged to take us closer to the wreck site by tour buses.

The scene is surreal.

A crater 8 feet deep and 50 feet wide is surrounded by a tree line charred when the plane exploded. Nothing bigger then a phone book is left from the crash, and investigators wearing haz-mat suits in the crater make the wreck site look like a trip to the moon.

At a press conference later that afternoon, the FBI would not confirm the crash was the work of terrorists. They said it was a criminal investigation, but would not tie it to events in Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Even more difficult, they would not confirm that passengers made phone calls before the plane crashed.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge summed it up that afternoon. "It's difficult to describe the range of emotions everyone feels when they not only learn of these incidents today but they actually see them."

When I went on the air later that night in the 11 p.m. newscast, my report focused on what was known.

- The plane had crashed.

- There were 38 passengers, five crew and two pilots on board.

- There was nothing left of the plane.

Investigators were digging in for the long haul that night, setting up a command post and communications tower. The word from the FBI was clear - the investigation was just beginning.

My photographer and I stayed in Pittsburgh that night. We watched what had unfolded that day in the rest of the United States from videotapes. When you report on a single event, there's a tendency to lose focus that a bigger picture is unfolding as well. Our role in all of this became clear that night as we watched the buildings crumble and smoke. We were a part of history, and our reports back to West Virginia and throughout the CBS News network were helping people understand the extent of the crime committed against the American people.

Day Two of our coverage focused on updates and reports.

More information about the heroism of the passengers slowly filtered from the wreck site. The goal that day for investigators was to find the black box from United Airlines Flight 93, and our goal was to advance the story. The FBI update that morning didn't give us any new clues into the wreck.

But Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha gave us some information giving credit to the rumors of phone calls made before the plane crashed. "This black box in this incident could be a key because I think personally there was a struggle in that airplane before it hit the ground. And somebody made a heroic effort to keep that aircraft from hitting a populated area."

That afternoon, we returned to the wreck site. It was still smoking.

Police told us the wreckage caught fire again the night before. This time, more workers were busy in the crater looking for clues and hoping for answers. It was also easier to see the extent of the wreckage. Police confirmed that debris stretched for miles beyond the tree line. Silver shining pieces of the plane could be spotted hanging from the trees.

The state police officer standing beside me as I viewed the site that day was one of the first officers on scene after the crash. He wouldn't go on camera but described what he saw.

Body parts, luggage, papers, and fiery wreckage.

He also said there were cabins and homes in the forest beyond the crater. No one was home at the time of the wreck. And no one would be visiting those cabins soon.

In the broadcast that night, we wrapped up the events of the last 48 hours. The black box was still buried deep in the crater (they would find it two days later) and investigators were planning on being in the hills of rural Pennsylvania for at least another two months. My photographer and I packed up and headed back for Charleston to cover the events unfolding locally in West Virginia's state capitol. But the importance of the wreck of United Airlines flight 93 is still unfolding.

"I can't overstate how methodical and painstaking this process will be," FBI Special Agent Roland Covington told us in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. Clues from the flight data recorder are crucial to revealing the last minutes of the flight.

And the real story that will surface in the coming months is the heroism of the passengers. Knowing that they were prisoners on a stolen guided missile, did they bring the plane down before it caused more destruction?

And just where was the plane headed, and how many lives were saved by their brave sacrifice?