WBTV’s Steve Crump remembers reporting live from New York City covering the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001

Uncertainty was clearly a given in covering the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center that happened 20 years ago this week.
At 9:03 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, the twin towers were hit by hijacked planes, and by 11 a.m. Steve Crump received a call from the WBTV newsroom.
Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 6:43 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 10, 2021 at 8:44 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Uncertainty was clearly a given in covering the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center that happened 20 years ago this week.

At 9:03 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, the twin towers were hit by hijacked planes, and by 11 a.m. I received a call from the WBTV newsroom saying “Pack a bag. You’re going to New York.”

My cameraman-now-turned-reporter Ron Lee and I were on the road before noon. With air traffic coming to an abrupt halt, we drove.

The distance between Charlotte, North Carolina and New York City is just over 600 miles, and getting there was quite an adventure.

Keep in mind smartphones didn’t exist in 2001. The best we could do was communicate via a bulky bag phone.

Across the AM and FM dial, we heard some stations going wall-to-wall with news coverage and others airing broadcasts taped earlier without any reference to what was happening in New York, Washington D.C. And Shanksville, Pennsylvania where two other planes went down.

Heading up Interstate 85 to Interstate 95 was filled with questions, challenges and not knowing what to expect.

We decided to stop in Richmond, Virginia to stock up on items like nonperishable foods, water, and other supplies.

Further up the road came signs of the stunning reality we would have to face.

As we approached Washington, D.C. smoke could be seen for miles. It was still rising from the Pentagon which was one scene of the terror attacks.

Those unforgettable images came into our view around 7:30 p,m.

Three hours later, we would see the shock of a lifetime.

Driving with a sense of urgency put us in the New York area around 10:30 p.m.

Getting to our destination and going live on WBTV’s 11 p.m. news presented a series of challenges.

Navigating traffic through in at least a half dozen states, finding the satellite truck to handle our on-air feeds, and constantly staying in touch with assignment desks in Charlotte and decision-makers at CBS in New York regarding their plan for affiliates.

Having worked on the 11 p.m. news at WBTV for nearly two decades, I knew this would be a night unlike any other.

On the late-night show, there are memories of UNC and Duke winning basketball national championships, the PTL scandal of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and the deaths of 25 people at Imperial Foods in Hamlet, North Carolina.

This 11 p.m. newscast would be different.

We opened the show with the most recent information at the time and went live to the Pentagon with WBTV Anchor Jon Robinson.

Because we had to wait in line behind network correspondents, and other CBS affiliates, it was our turn. Anchors Paul Cameron and Denise Dory came to me at 11:16 p.m.

My report detailed how we left Charlotte, explained what we saw at The Pentagon, and the environment in the New York area.

We didn’t figure out hotel arrangements until after the live shot. I’m still eternally grateful to my long friend and former WBTV photographer Chuck Denton for setting us up with a Marriott Courtyard in Jersey City.

20 years later, you may ask what still sticks with me as a reporter? My short answer is...the people we met.

The aftermath days later was most harrowing.

Adsorbing that environment meant taking in dust caked on the bumpers of ambulances, seeing soot scattered across the windows of businesses near ground zero, inhaling the intense aroma of diesel fuel from fire trucks in and out of that insane scene.

Many inspiring moments came from volunteers who made sandwiches, handed out cold bottles of water, and provided emotional as well as moral support for those spending long hours at the attack site.

Concern for the missing and dead was expressed everywhere.

Those in search of loved ones constantly attached the faces of those who needed to be found on telephone poles and inside subway stations.

My memories also recall a parking lot in Jersey City where workers heading into Manhattan boarded the ferry daily.

After three days, the same cars remained parked in the same place with notes on their vehicles from family members saying where are you ?

The car owners were among the missing.

I was deeply touched by the frayed feelings of a person I met by the name of Peggy Carpenter and her words at a Manhattan church service. She tearfully put a picture of her friend Kevin Bowser in front of Ron’s camera.

Kevin Bowzer was never found.

I later learned he worked on the 97th floor of one of the towers, hailed from Philadelphia, played college football, always wore a bright smile, and that he had a twin brother.

Peggy Carpenter’s emotions were shared on Friday after the terror attacks as President Bush was visiting the site of the collapsed towers.

My story that afternoon from West Street was along the same thoroughfare used by the motorcades of President Bush, Senator Hillary Clinton, and former New York Mayor Edward Koch.

I recall explaining in my live report that afternoon how the procession of cars of government officials was greeted with “thunderous applause.”

It was my last piece before making the 600-plus mile drive back to Charlotte the very next day.

Emotions were very heavy coming home after being in that environment for five days.

Heading home south on Interstate 95, many overpasses were draped with Red, White and Blue flags as a sign of solidarity behind American patriotism and showing support as well as sensitivity for the dead and injured.

While the WBTV parking lot was a destination location, there were a number of meaningful takeaways and observations that resonate with this reporter two decades later.

One month before the 9/11 attacks, I saw the World Trade Center Towers for what would be the last time. My view came through the window of a Super Shuttle van heading toward the city after landing at Newark Airport.

20 years later, I find myself asking where did all of the unity and ecumenical goodwill from that time go? Clearly, we as a country remain divided along the lines of race, class, culture, and ideology.

Finally, a few Christmases ago my wife Cathy and I spent part of our holidays in New York, and it was no accident that we ended up staying at the World Trade Center Hotel.

From our hotel we could see the newly completed 9/11 memorial.

We were several stories above it.

In the darkness of night, we strolled by fountains, read some of the names etched in the polished granite of those who didn’t survive, and even thought about the victims that included Kevin Bowser and the desperation voiced by his friend Penny Carpenter in her search for him.

Coping with such an event means tucking it away in an emotional compartment.

Flashbacks occur 20 years later only to relive the experience as we collectively reflect.

However, despite the time, distance, and raw emotion such a tragedy remains hard to shake.

In many ways what unfolded on September 11, 2001 seems like it happened just yesterday.

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