‘Last look at a doomed skyline’: Counting down my top 40 stories in the Toronto Star
Over 40 years in this racket, I have written about police, crooks, tennis players, scorpions, elephants, hockey players and average Joes who were thrust into the media spotlight.
As I wind down my 35-year career at the Toronto Star (40 in all), I thought it would be interesting to reach back into the archives and share some of my favourite stories.
Since I began my countdown at 61 days back on Feb. 2, I’ve told personal stories of my life as a reporter with the Sarnia Obsever, Edmonton Report magazine, the Edmonton Journal, Toronto Sun and Toronto Star.
So, what better way to mark my final 40 days than to begin a countdown of my top 40 stories?
I plan to add some backstory too so that you will understand how these stories came about, and the challenges I had reporting and writing them.
So, let’s start the countdown with No. 40.
No. 40. Sept. 12, 2001
Explanation: I had been in New York for two weeks covering the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
Venus Williams had beaten her sister, Serena, in the women’s final, while Lleyton Hewitt had toppled Pete Sampras in the men’s final.
My wife had joined me for the final week and we decided to stay one day after the tournament so we could enjoy Manhattan together.
The tournament ended on Sunday. Our plan was to have a nice dinner on Monday and leave Tuesday morning, Sept. 11.
We were on an Air Canada plane due to depart from La Guardia at 9 a.m. As we now know, the plane never took off.
There were only two Star reporters in New York at the time. Myself and the paper’s fashion writer, Bernadette Morra.
Once we were rushed off the plane, I borrowed a cell phone and called Foreign Editor Jimmy Atkins. I also talked to another editor, Jonathan Ohayon, who told me to file what I could by 11:30 a.m. for a special morning edition.
After the airport hotel allowed me to use an office, I wrote my story with trembling hands and got the story to the Star just under the wire. But to my chagrin, things had changed dramatically inside the newsroom.
The Star couldn’t wait for 11:30. So my story missed the print run. They told me instead to turn it into a first-person account for the next day’s paper.
Meanwhile, our fearless columnist, Rosie DiManno, was hustling to get to New York to take over our coverage.
I couldn’t get out of New York until Thursday, so I spent two days talking to the New York Mets and New York Rangers about how the attack would change their scheduling plans. Those stories ran in the sports section.
Here is my first-person account, which appeared on B2 in sports. It had been cut quite a bit.
Headline: Last look at a doomed skyline
By Curtis Rush
NEW YORK — Unbelievably, it seems now, but I had tried to book dinner for my wife and myself at Windows On The World at the World Trade Center Monday night so we could take in the sights.
It was to be our last night in Manhattan after I had covered the U.S. Open tennis championships the previous two weeks.
I had tried to make a booking, but no one picked up when I phoned the reservations desk on Sunday afternoon. My wife was okay with that.
She told me she had felt queasy about it because of the previous bombing there in 1993, and I passed it off as an overreaction.
Anyhow, since no one picked up my call, we booked the Rainbow Room instead at Rockefeller Plaza. It was a nice view, even though it rained most of the night.
We were up 65 floors and I took pictures of the World Trade Center, wondering how nice it would have been to be up 107 floors to get higher panoramic view of Manhattan.
They would be the among the last pictures ever seen of the World Trade Centre standing.
Yesterday morning, we boarded our flight at 9 a.m. on schedule. We were told our flight would be booked fully because bad weather the previous night had forced a postponement of an earlier flight out of La Guardia.
My wife and I were strapped into our seats ready for takeoff when a woman a row ahead of us turned back to a colleague and said two planes had just crashed into the twin towers. We thought she was crazy.
It was about 9:10 or 9:15 a.m. and no one around me believed it. A few minutes later, however, people were on cell phones, taking calls from frantic friends who had seen it.
At first, we were told the flight would be delayed for a long time because of an “accident.” I asked the guy beside me how long he thought “a long time” meant and he replied “probably a couple of hours.”
Soon, however, we knew the “accident” was much more serious. We were rounded up and told to leave La Guardia Airport immediately. Canine units were brought in and security people were dumping all trash cans as my wife and I left the airport without getting our bags.
We were told we had to leave them behind. My wife and I took a La Guardia airport shuttle to get a room at the nearby Marriott, but there was a waiting list of more than 100.
Once on the shuttle, which was filled with 50 people or so, someone said in shock, “Oh, my God..” Out the window, we saw a huge plume of smoke rising ominously kilometres away in downtown Manhattan.