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Pa. TV stations play their parts

The on-board events leading up to the crash of United Flight 93 may have been the most dramatic of all the terrorist incidents last week. There were reports that passengers may have chosen a final act of resistance, thwarting the terrorists' plans for further federal targets.

But the gigantic hole in the ground outside Shanksville, Pa., left by the disintegration of the plane and the 45 people it carried lacked the visual drama of the burning Pentagon and collapsing World Trade Center.

"There's nothing there," said Al Blinke, news director at Pittsburgh's KDKA-TV, echoing the view of many local newspeople. "Just a 20-foot crater. We don't have the signs or mayhem or destruction that New York or Washington have."

Even without the connection to the world-shaking events in New York and Washington, a plane crash 90 miles from Pittsburgh would have been big news in that market and in the smaller Johnstown-Altoona market closest to the crash.

"It was an unbelievable national story with a never-before-seen local story," said WTAE-TV News Director Bob Longo. "I hope we never have to go through that again."

One of WTAE-TV's reporters, Jim Parsons, was detained by police after they found him close to the newly formed crater. "Jim said it was the smell of scorched earth, total disintegration," Longo said, adding that Parsons was let go after about 45 minutes.

"Today was a day I called in sick," WCCP-TV and WATM-TV News Director David Price said late Tuesday. "That lasted about five minutes. Nobody has the day off on a day like this. How can we compare this to any other story?"

"I've been in the market for 11 years," said WTAJ-TV Altoona News Director Jim Frank. "I've seen nothing like this."

"This is a rural area," Price noted. "We had the advantage of knowing where we were going. That's our job. But still, we're a local newscast. There's no way we can do what CNN can do."

Pittsburgh's news leaders cited the city's experience in 1994, when USAir Flight 427 crashed in nearby Aliquippa, and noted that that story seemed more intensely local —perhaps because of the more dramatic crash scene but most likely because of the number of local families affected: That plane had taken off from Pittsburgh and had many area passengers aboard.