As I left New York for London last night, I was haunted by one thing: the radar image I had seen on the Weather Channel before departing. It showed an active tornado over the top of Tuscaloosa, Alabama—just one cell in this active, sprawling weather system, which for the 4th night in a row was firing off brutal, monster intensity storms. We talked about it in the newsroom before I left—about how it would take hours before we knew anything.
I landed in London, morning their time, and checked my Blackberry before we taxied off the runway. I saw the death toll. 83 and climbing. Before long, it was posted at 172. Two colleagues picked me up at baggage claim and Customs, and our coverage conundrum wore away at me as we drove. I kept thinking of the four-inch Royal Wedding briefing binder in my bag—I had devoted the night flight to studying it—a global media event outside my area of expertise.
Rather than driving from Heathrow all the way into Central London, we decided to get off the highway and park in the residential neighborhood of Chiswick. We symbolically aimed the car back toward Heathrow. We watched as people left for work and school, people walked their dogs and collected the trash, some pausing to notice the idling car with passengers in it, talking on the phone. Our NBC News staff in London was just awakening to the news from home. Minutes later, NBC News President Steve Capus made the call: He said I should go home. We both agreed the tragedy would dominate our newscast and our coverage. I never got to see our infrastructure in London, or any of my colleagues beyond the confines of my car. We had a magnificent setup—the result of months of planning—to cover the big day in London, and we still will, live and wall-to-wall. But for now, for us, for this story, one of us had to go back and lead a separate coverage team—as the death toll grows.
Three hours after arriving in London, I was in the departure lounge for British Airways flight 177 to JFK. I am now back in New York. We hope you can join us for the broadcast tonight.