Capturing a Terror-Filled Day
By Joseph Kellard
With a TV camera on his shoulder, Keith Lane had been to Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, Honduras and other war zones, and he videotaped the fear on the soot-covered faces of victims from the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. But nothing has ever disturbed him more than a particular scene from last September.
Lane, an Oceanside resident and cameraman with Fox News for 14 years, arrived at the WTC on September 11 just minutes after the second tower was hit, and while filming the chaos that unfolded before him he witnessed people leaping to their deaths.
"I just couldn't imagine what kind of hell on earth it was up there that their only choice was to jump 80 to 90 floors," Lane told the Herald. "It was hard to comprehend. I couldn't even come to terms with that until a week or two ago. I couldn't even talk about it without breaking down."
Recently, Lane was filmed voicing this sentiment in an interview for a half-hour special aired by Fox News on the one-year memorial of that horrific day. "Capturing 9/11 Stories from Behind the Lens" featured Lane and two of his colleagues, Dave Corporon and Jack Taliercio, who told their experiences videotaping the momentous event.
That day, on hearing that a plane had crashed into a twin tower, Lane bypassed the elevator at Fox's 67th St. headquarters, rushed down its stairs and drove his work truck along the FDR Drive to the WTC.
Once there, authorities stopped him from getting to the towers. Instead Lane planted himself in front of the nearby Millennium Hotel, where injured and distraught people were already being treated, and he began videotaping the shocked and crying innocents hurrying from the smoldering skyscrapers.
"I'm thinking to myself, 'How are they going to put this fire out? How are they going to put the fire in two buildings like this out?,'" he said in "Capturing 9/11 Stories."
Meanwhile, Taliercio worked his way down to the WTC, at one point filming the plaza, the once busy square between the towers. The speaker system continued to play a muzak version of Billy Joel's "She's Always A Woman" out on to a then eerily desolate area as debris rained down from the gaping black holes above. Taliercio noticed a man clutching to a window outside a floor just below where the flames and smoke were raging inside. Eventually, the man slid and fell.
"I'm shooting the most unbelievable thing that I will ever experience in my life," Taliercio said, recalling his thoughts at that moment.
Amid such surreal scenes the cameramen were unaware they were shooting the results of a terrorist attack, and never did they think the towers would collapse.
But as the first tower began to fall and rumble loudly, Lane, Corporon and Taliercio filmed the people running in terror as thick, tornado-like clouds of dust and debris barreled around buildings and chased them through the streets. They stuck around as long as they could to videotape these scenes. But when they finally ran it was too late; the ominous clouds had quickly surrounded them. The frames of their cameras turned pitch black.
"It was so black you couldn't see your hand in front of your face," Corporon recalled. "And, say, for the first thirty seconds to the first minute, when that cloud swallowed me up, I really thought I was going to suffocate."
Lane, who noticed that pieces of debris pelting him were getting larger, suffered from similar effects. "I just kept clearing my throat and saying, 'You've got to keep breathing. You've got to keep breathing,'" he said.
The quiet that ensued resembled that of a street after a heavy snowstorm, and the only sounds were muffled hollers for help or the cry of names. After they made their way out of their darkest experience, and after they came out from cover following the fall of the second tower, Lane and his colleagues kept working, wandering the war-torn streets. Among the many images they shot were survivors crawling out from underneath parked cars blanketed in ash.
Lane returned to his truck on Fulton and Broadway, one block from the WTC, and after digging it out of debris he parked it in front of Pace University, where firefighters had created a command station. Not wanting to leave an event of that magnitude, he lived out of his truck for four days. But thoughts of his family in Oceanside, his wife Susan and daughter Tara, 10, were most poignant the first day.
"I got a page about 8:30 that night that just said, 'Daddy, I Love You,'" said Lane as an emotional lump formed in his throat.
He returned home early that Saturday morning, but after just five hours, after showering and packing a bag with some needed materials, he returned to lower Manhattan for a week.
Professionally, the events of that infamous day culminated in Lane, Corporon and Taliercio being awarded "General Excellence in Photo Journalism" by the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters Association.
"It's an award I'm honored to win, but I wish it was a story I never had covered because of the terrible story it was and the number of people we lost," Lane said.
In addition to his work as a cameraman in dangerous circumstances, Lane has volunteered as a firefighter for 21 years, six of them with the Oceanside Fire Department. So since he has come face to face with fire and smoke often enough, he didn't fear for his life much when he was caught in the dust and debris from the fallen towers. But when he reflects on the day, when he thinks about what he went through as a cameraman to capture the destruction, chaos and victims on videotape, he realizes he was also one of them.
"I never considered any of us survivors of the World Trade Center collapse. But I guess we were." Lane said in the last frame of "Capturing 9/11 Stories. "I guess we were."
* This story originally appeared in the Oceanside/Island Park Herald in 2002.