Channel 5's morning anchor explains how he came to be sent to cover the Japan disaster on short notice — and why he and his crew, producer Toni Molle and photographer Mike McGregor, came back so soon. It began with a late-night call from Morning News Executive Producer Tim Scowden and a flight from LAX to Tokyo via (get this) Chicago and Detroit. Once in Japan, they crashed for a few hours then hung around CNN's place in Tokyo. Then they hired a driver and headed north to Sendai. Excerpts:
It was bitterly cold and snowing at times. I wondered how the rescuers and workers were going to sustain themselves in the weeks and months ahead. I felt for the families of those missing who may never know what happened to their loved ones....
While reporting in Sendai, we met up again with some of my former colleagues from CNN including correspondents Gary Tuchman and Anderson Cooper. We planned to use their satellite dish for transmission of our material and for our live shots. But they'd just received word from CNN headquarters that CNN was pulling out of Sendai because the nuclear power facility in Fukushima was emitting radiation and the prevailing winds would push it in our direction. Most of the CNN team was heading to Akita, about 150 miles north where there is an airport and hotels. We moved in that direction as well.
We arrived in Akita about four hours later and after checking in to a Comfort Hotel (yes, a Japanese version of the U.S. Comfort Inn), we prepared our stories. We did a series of live shots from this location and others on an iPhone 4. We didn't have access to a satellite dish and for a variety of technical reasons, a phone was our best chance to get the story out live. So Mike McGregor and I were attached to each other with a standard iPhone 4 earpiece and mic to do our liveshots via Skype. It wasn't the best quality in the world, but it allowed us to speak with you directly.
We had planned to continue reporting from Tokyo on the radiation story but after arriving in Tokyo, it became clear the radiation was prompting an exodus out of Japan. The governments of Australia and France were telling its citizens to leave Japan and expats of various nations decided it was now time to leave. I realized if we didn't change our arrangements immediately, we were probably there for the duration. At another time in my life, I would have hunkered down and prepared to cover the story. But without the medical expertise to make an informed decision about our personal safety, with a family urging me to come home, and with tickets selling out on flights to California, I decided to talk to the team. We decided together that we should head home.
Our news director Jason Ball was fully supportive. He too was concerned about our safety and wanted us out. He told me not to worry about leaving the story--that we could continue to cover it with CNN and our other resources--and not to worry about the costs of buying new tickets no matter how expensive.
Journalists on the ground in Libya would probably take that deal right about now. Buckley, by the way, has a Japanese mother and is involved in the Japanese American community here.
Previously on LA Observed:
KTLA's Frank Buckley returns from Japan, gets checked for radiation