(WTAJ) — Former WTAJ Morning Anchor Amy Mearkle watched the tragic moments unfold during the morning hours of September 11, 2001, as she anchored morning reports.
Mearkle detailed, “There were a bank of TVs across the front of the newsroom and you’re watching all of the major networks and you’re starting to see all of this unfold and happen.”
She then called her co-anchor Jere Gish and Evening Anchor Carolyn Donaldson who were working together in Donaldson’s kitchen for a segment called “Keystone Kitchen” and alerted them to what was happening.
When Donaldson came into the station, she’d be on the desk for approximately 12 hours straight to be ready for breaking news and developments.
Both Mearkle and Donaldson explained information that day was constantly flowing into the newsroom. They said it was important to remind people at home that the situation was continually evolving and that information could change as they would learn more.
“You were literally just carrying information to the set and reading it verbatim, you know?” Donaldson described. “And reading what reports were, listening for those reports that were coming through from the producer and the folks that were out in the field.”
While network news provided updates of what was going on in New York and Washington, D.C., Donaldson and Mearkle explained it was WTAJ’s responsibility at the time to let the people of Central Pennsylvania know how everything impacted their lives, especially with the crash of Flight 93 happening in their own backyard.
Donaldson was on the news desk when the connection was first made between the events in New York and the Shanksville plane crash. She detailed, “A call from inside the plane to the Westmoreland 911 center and it was a passenger saying, you know, ‘we are on this flight, we’re going down.’ And then we transferred that and went live and said, ‘we’re connecting this to the tragedy.'”
Both Mearkle and Donaldson expressed how they felt in the moments that it was clear that the passengers and crew of Flight 93 took heroic action.
“I think for me, that ‘a-ha’ moment was when the report started to filter through then very quickly that the men and women on that plane made the decision. Made the decision that they want to take the plane down, not go to another building,” Mearkle recounted. “They had heard of other targets. When you think about what they sacrificed that day, you just have to keep doing your job and keep being that mirror of society and getting the story out.”
For Donaldson, she remembered, “I’m not sure what our records will show, but I think we started calling them ‘Heroes of Flight 93’ almost as soon as we had it verified that we knew that plane was diverted and taken down by our passengers on board, our Americans on board.”
It was a long and emotional day, but both Mearkle and Donaldson explained how important it was for them to focus on doing their job. Donaldson said it wasn’t until she finally left the station after midnight that she finally took in what happened that day.
“I do remember driving to my church and sitting on the steps because the doors were locked and sitting there and just trying to get some some composure and grasp of it. “
She continued, “For me, I personally held that in and really just thought I am focused on my job and I’m trying to get that information out so that we can find answers.”