In hell with a camera

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

As soon as the first jetliner hit the World Trade Center, Rick Leventhal hopped on the C train to race from the Fox News headquarters in Midtown to the scene downtown.
With the help of a page from the office, the Fox correspondent connected with satellite truck operator Pat Butler, who had, against practically all odds, slipped Fox’s truck into a spot just around the corner from the scene of so much devastation.
They didn’t have a photographer. After Mr. Butler got the satellite dish up, he took up the camera.
“I just went and got in front of the camera and assumed we were on,” Mr. Leventhal said.
The two were working their corner when the first tower collapsed, sending dazed civilians and cops running toward them, trying to escape the plumes of day-to-night smoke shooting in every direction from the WTC.
“You see cops running away and you know you’ve gotta move,” Mr. Leventhal said. He and Mr. Butler clambered into their truck. “We just watched and got enveloped. I looked at Pat and said, `Are we gonna die?”’
The smoke cleared as suddenly as it had overtaken them. Five minutes later, the two emerged to a dramatically different scene.
“It was hard to talk to people,” Mr. Leventhal said. But talk he did, to survivors, to relief workers, to Fox News anchors and to Fox affiliates hungry for live shots.
“There’s a disconnect,” he said. “You can’t let yourself get too caught up in what’s happening because you have to work.”
He would learn later that a Fox cameraman had photographed the horrifying plummet of several people who had jumped from the burning towers and “then shut off the camera and cried.”
More than 18 hours after he emerged from the subway, Mr. Leventhal and a crew of seven others who worked for Fox crammed into a Ford Expedition and drove north.