TWA - FLIGHT 800 - ON THE SCENE
JULY 18, 1996
A different view of the crash story from NewsHour essayist Roger Rosenblatt. He was on the scene in East Moriches, Long Island and spoke with Charlayne Hunter-Gault earlier today.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Roger, thank you for joining us. You live fairly near the, the crash scene, right?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Yes, Charlayne. We have a house in Kwag, which is about 10 miles west of East Moriches.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: And when were you aware that something extraordinary had happened?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: My wife, our youngest son and I were watching the Yankee game last night, and at about 8:30 or 8:40, when the explosion occurred, our house, which is I say, is 10 miles away, was really shaken, shaken so severely we ran out to see if something had fallen off the roof or chimney or something. We didn't see anything then, didn't understand what it might be, so went back into the house, and a couple of hours later, the story came on, and then I just stayed with it through most of the night and then got up at 6 o'clock this morning and came out here.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: And where are you now exactly?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I'm where--I'm with the press group which is at some short distance from the Coast Guard station. We are not allowed to go down to the Coast Guard station from this point. That's where they're bringing in the bodies.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Hm-hmm. So you're not able to really see anything, but you're able to get a sense of--what are you able to get a sense of?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, you really get a sense of several things. The original sense that you would get if you were here say last night into this morning is of Long Island, the south shore of Long Island in the middle of the summer. It's a vacationing atmosphere. People are out on their boats fishing or having a good time or grilling hamburgers in the backyard. East Moriches is not like the Hamptons. It's not a fake or fancy town. It's a real town of real working people, and they were going about their usual fun on a summer night when this terrible crash and flame occurred. And the intersection of these two antipodal things, this very nice, very stable, very old town, and a plane crashing in the ocean, created a terrible, a terrible moment for this town.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: And has that moment been sustained throughout this day? I mean, are people in a state of shock or what?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I don't know if there's shock. Maybe you're right. Umm, I'll tell you how the shock manifests itself. These are very good people, normal people used to working for a living. I spoke to a woman who runs a deli with her sister and another woman. They just opened a deli on the corner of where we drive in to the Coast Guard station, and asked her if she thought--what she would think if it turned out that this was, in fact, a terrorist bombing, would that make a difference, and she said not really. I was asking the question assuming a kind of global resonance to it, but she said, not really, it's the sadness of it, it's the tragedy of all these people dead.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Hmm. Did you talk to anyone else around there?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Yeah. Just--it's casual and quick conversation. This is still an atmosphere that is mostly frenetic. If you stand among the other reporters here, you get a sense of the almost outer space reality with all the satellite dishes and the trucks and the equipment and so forth that we all have, and this is superimposed on a very quiet town in which literally nothing happens. One fellow, I said, well, think of the last thing that happened of consequence in the town or a moment, and he thought of the fire last year, and there was a big fire, as you know, out in this area, but beyond that, he said, "I've lived here 20 years, and it's all quiet until this."
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: And the media, you mentioned all the satellite dishes.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: We are, interestingly enough, the only instrument by which the world learns of these tragedies, and at the same time, when we make our instrumentation known, we bring our equipment in, umm, we really do look like invaders.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: You said there was a frenetic pace to the town today which is different from what is usually there?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Oh, yes. I mean, this--think of the 1940's, any country, town in America you can remember, you know, a diner, a cleaner, a local school, a library, a lot of quiet people going about their business on what is called Montach Highway, which is hardly a highway anymore, and now cars are in lines. There are, umm, long parades of people who don't have cars coming down to the area.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: To see, just to look?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Say again, Charlayne.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Just to look?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: To look. The--they're being discouraged at different points, but still they get through. The FBI is here, of course, in force. So many authorities are here. The New York Police Department is here. The Southampton police, Westhampton police, the local Moriches police.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Briefly, Roger, tell me about the uncertainty, because you mentioned, you said--you asked the woman about the bomb--and of course nobody knows what it was, at least not at this point--how are people dealing with the uncertainty of it all?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I don't know that they do. I mean, when you talk of people and we're talking about the citizens of East Moriches or Moriches or the towns around here, mmm, the--it's--if you or I looked on this from a distance, we would see a kind--a dissonance of activity, of a massive plane brought down in the Atlantic Ocean on its way to Paris over a small town, but from the point of view of a small town, they go their own way. You know, they keep their perspective, frankly, admirable. They focus on the people who died. They mourn for them. They focus on their families who are grieving for them. They bring it down to the microcosm, and maybe that's the way it should be.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Roger, thank you.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Thank you, Charlayne.