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Covering a Crash: Hillsboro Jet Accident

by Jack Penning

kgw.com

Posted on July 17, 2006 at 7:59 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:45 PM

It's been a very busy, hectic, and sometimes difficult 24 hours. As NewsChannel 8's aviation reporter, I am always at the head of our coverage on these accidents. But this accident is unlike anything I've covered in my 10-years as a journalist.

For one, I'd never covered an accident at an airshow before. In the 19-years the Oregon International Airshow has been around, there's never been a crash. I'd never covered a plane into a home... or a neighborhood. I've covered dozens of crashes... but... until now... I was lucky enough to have never seen a plane hit a populated area. But the most striking difference... is personal.

This accident happened in my neighborhood. I live in the Orenco area of Hillsboro. The plane came down roughly 8-blocks from my house.

As a resident of Hillsboro... living near the airport... I'm used to jet noise. Unlike many of my neighbors, I don't mind it. In fact, I love watching the planes overhead... especially during the airshow. I spent part of my Saturday doing just that. On Sunday... it was no different. Lots of noise from the show at HIO (That's the Hillsboro Airport three-letter code). Then... about 4:30... it got dead silent. It was weird. So I went out on my back patio... and sure enough... I saw the plume of black smoke. I didn't need a scanner... or a phone call from KGW's assignment desk... to know what had happened. I immediately transitioned into "reporter mode" and headed out to cover the story... talking to friends and neighbors as I worked.

You can read much of the information we compiled on the front page of kgw.com. I won't re-post that information here. But I want to address some issues I didn't get time to talk about in my reports.

First, the graciousness of the people of the Orenco neighborhood... especially those who were directly impacted by the crash. We talked to two different families whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the accident. I was taken aback by their attitudes of perserverance. Each told me their homes meant little... and what was important was the fact they all survived.

Donna Reynolds' home was ground zero. It's gone. She built it, with the help of her late-father, 20 years ago this summer. They designed it together... and it embodied everything that's great about the father-daughter bond. Yet she told me she feels fortunate she... and her little pup... made it out alive. She told me the house can be replaced... but her life... and her experiences can not. And that's what's important to her.

It made me wonder how I might react had the plane come down just a quarter mile to the southeast... on my block. I don't know if I'd be able to step-back, so soon after the crash, with such perspective. I really admire that in the people... like Donna... who I had the pleasure to meet.

Second, we've had several e-mails addressing the growth around the Hillsboro Airport in recent years. With Intel and Nike both nearby, Orenco is experiencing unprecedented growth. It's a great community... with all kinds of housing... with shops... with restaurants... grocery stores... and the MAX line. That's why I chose it as my home... even though my office is downtown.

As more people move in, the more residents there are who live under flight paths. Yes, the airport was there first, and yes, this is the first accident that's directly affected a Hillsboro neighborhood. But some e-mailers want the Port of Portland to reconsider its use of the Hillsboro Airport... and others want the City of Hillsboro to reconsider building permits near the airport.

"We must face the fact that the city is growing; just count the number of the residential and commercial construction sites along NE Cornel Road near the airport. The city of Hillsboro is getting more and more densely populated around the airport. With this busy airport nearby, I am really in doubt that will our homes be ever safe? Is Hillsboro still an appropriate place for an airport?"
- Hillsboro Viewer

Finally, some of our NewsChannel 8 viewers were upset with the level of coverage we devoted to the accident. On Sunday night, we cut-in to regular programming from roughly 4:45pm to 7:30pm for continuing coverage. Here's what one viewer wrote:

"I think your 2 hour continuous coverage of the one small plane crash in Hillsboro yesterday was excessive. The crash that you were covering did not directly affect that may people. Two houses where damaged, and while tragic, one man was killed. What is going on in the world affects a lot more Portlanders and Oregonians, people who rely on the news to let them know what is happening."
- NewsChannel 8 Viewer

NewsChannel 8 often pre-empts other news coverage for breaking news or developing stories. This accident was both. We were continually gathering new information... which... in continuing coverage... we can immediately pass-on to our viewers. And despite the fact this might have only directly affected one neighborhood... many thousands more of our viewers witnessed it while attending the airshow. As the station "Where the News Comes First," we're proud of our committment to staying with breaking stories... shedding more light and understading than a typical 30-minute newscast would allow.

It's true there is much happening in the world that deserves news-time. And in our 10pm and 11pm newscasts, we had many of those national and world news stories.

But while local news is happening, it is, and always has been, our policy to stay with the story as long as we have new information to report. Moreover, NewsChannel 8 is committed to local news. What's happening in the Northwest is always our top priority, as was the case with this crash.

All of us here at NewsChannel 8 are honored to be Portland's choice for breaking news coverage. We don't take our responsibility lightly. Thank you for watching... and thank you for reading.

I'd love to hear more from you... and I'd be happy to answer your questions. E-mail me at jpenning@kgw.com.

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