At the scene of breaking news
An eerie quiet strangles the deathly black swerves taking me from Surrey to Richmond.
Radio broadcasts replay a breaking news bulletin warning motorists to avoid No. 5 Road in Richmond. All power is out in a large grid surrounding the road, leaving a haunting darkness illuminated only by the occasional truck driver and NASCAR-wanna-bes. I drive faster.
Two passengers, radio broadcasters murmur. Maybe dead, they speculate.
It is 11:45 p.m. on Thursday, an hour and a half since emergency response teams were alerted to a fire. More than a fire, in fact. It is an airplane crash.
I cross over a hump in the road and find myself in a world where all eyes are wide open, watching intensely but solemnly still. Red and blue flashing lights pierce the darkness. At least a half-dozen emergency vehicles are visible East of the police tape littered across the intersection at Sweden Way and Bridgeport Road. RCMP car after car towards an unusually busy Staples and McDonald’s parking lot.
I collect my camera, notepad and tape recorder and head for the mass of people at the corner of the lot. Several curious onlookers dawdle uncomfortably behind large television cameras. Everyone talks in whispers.
The voice of the radio broadcaster fills the air again, this time barely audible as the CKNW reporter records a new update on his cell phone. He paces as he rattles through a disheartening statement from an RCMP officer concerning two confirmed passengers on the eight-seater Navajo aircraft.
The street corner is cluttered with photographers, video cameras and media crews. The occasional punk in an oversized t-shirt and baggy pants strays into the group and asks meekly where the airplane is. The RCMP act swiftly, sending all non-media people away.
There are no plumes of smoke, nor is the air overcome by fumes. It could seem, to the uninformed ear, like an unusually busy night at the local McDonald’s.
Click, click. Photographers capture lone pictures of police officers huddled together. Dark, grainy, useless pictures – everyone knows – but they offer a familiar job in the night’s quiet confusion.
The obnoxiously large Global TV van parked neatly in the corner of the lot nearest the action seems to mock other media gathered nearby. I am clearly the only person carrying a notebook. A slight chuckle emerges when CTV arrives on scene and begins unpacking. They are the last to show by almost an hour.
Richmond Fire Chief John McGowan walks forward with an RCMP officer. Fifteen, maybe twenty people rush to surround him. Most carry video cameras, digital cameras or microphone equipment. They hardly leave a metre of breathing space for the man as he begins a new update, the last for several hours.
McGowan spends the next several minutes relaying every detail he can confirm at this point. His voice, almost mute, barely rises enough to be heard above the sound of an airplane descending overhead. The plane was ripped apart on impact, he says. Both passengers are deceased. It is about 12:20 a.m.
Reporters begin spouting out questions, one after another. Was there any other injuries? one woman holding a TV station microphone asks. McGowan says fortunately, there were no civilians in the parking lot as the airplane skimmed the ground, took out several large buses and collided into the rear of a transmission shop beside IKEA.
A pause. The reporters, who were spontaneously creating questions on causes and consequences, have gathered all the available information. Name and title? someone asks. The group thanks the fire chief and he swiftly disappears.
An unnaturally wide man jumps in front of several media workers, saying that will probably be all the information given for several hours. The media will not be allowed closer to the scene until further notice. And cars begin vanishing into the night.
I wrote this piece as a picture for other student journalists wanting to prepare for what to expect at the scene of breaking news. I read about the crash at about 10:45 p.m. and decided quickly that I wanted to see what being at the site of news with international significance was like. I hoped that I’d be able to market the information or photographs as a freelancer, but I realized shortly upon arrival that my pictures and notes would not be unique. Every media outlet was at the same location, receiving the same information. Still, it was an interesting experience.