Sukayna Krishnan, who grew up on Staten Island, joined WPIX as morning anchor just a month before the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Today’s installment of 9/11: New York Remembers, Krishnan examines the trying situation she faced with lack of experience.
Krishnan was only new to the station, not the market—having spent four years at WCBS/Channel 2.
On this particular late summer day, Krishnan, who had been working as a street reporter, got the fill-in assignment at the anchor desk, alongside veteran (former WNYW anchor) Lynne White.
“It was unbelievable,” Krishnan tells FishbowlNY. “It was just incredible what we were watching.”
Unlike today’s PIX Morning Show, on September 11, 2001, their broadcast was done by 8 a.m. So while every other morning program covered the first plane crash into the twin towers as part of the morning news show, Krishnan and White broke into regular programming.
After seeing the first images of a “small plane” becoming a flame thrower to the north tower, Krishnan’s mind immediately went to thoughts of a denoted truck bomb under the towers, eight years earlier.
“Not really clear, unsure, thinking back to 1993, unaware of the treachery that was going to unfold that day, and the nightmare situation that New York was going to go through,” Krishnan says.
With the limited knowledge that they had, mostly from the traffic camera position at the World Trade Center, WPIX came back on the air just after 9 a.m.
“Really, honestly, I was just getting my feet wet,” Krishnan recalls. “[I was] thrown into the fire, just like everybody else in the country and the world.”
So with White (far right), Krishnan was undaunted. However, keeping her composure would be a challenge with a bulls-eye placed on the south tower.
This time, the WPIX audience was watching “live shots” when the second crash occurred at 9:03 (See video below).
Krishnan admits that in watching the plane circle the tower and then make a direct hit, “my stomach just fell [and] I wanted to throw up.”
At the same time, White recognized that this was the “T” word—terrorism.
“She had her sea legs about her and she just knew from the get-go that this was not normal, and that this was an attack on the United States,” Krishnan says. “I remember that crystallizing moment when she said that, and from that moment on everything changed for me.”
By 10:30 a.m., the snapshot of commerce in America was no more—the World Trade Center came barreling down onto the streets below.
“You know there are people inside that are trapped, that are dead,” Krishnan reflects. “That’s hard to put into words.”
In a grim touch of irony, the WPIX studio backdrop featured the New York City skyline prominently showing the once-proud World Trade Center reaching up to the clouds.
By later in the day, WPIX draped a blue curtain behind the anchors blocking out the image of the towers.
Meantime, Krishnan would leave the anchor desk for street reporting outside of the Channel 11, talking to people several miles north of ground zero.
Ultimately, though, during the station’s marathon coverage, she would get much closer to the story.
“Everything was black, like everybody covered in soot,” Krishnan recalls. “Everybody [was] just a ghost and I was the only person of color, no dust on me, walking into the fire.”
One of the people Krishnan spoke to was CNBC’s Ron Insana, who was walking to NBC in Midtown from Lower Manhattan.
“It was like he wasn’t there,” Krishnan remembers. “He was having this out of body experience of survival.”
The long day’s journey into night for Krishnan kept her reporting until the news director finally persuaded her to go home.
“I ended up stopping off at NYU and getting my eyes rinsed out because I just couldn’t see from all the soot,” Krishnan says.
By the next morning, the toxic debris cloud had lifted. Krishnan was walking through ground zero when a stuffed animal became much more than a misplaced doll for the reporter.
“It’s a symbol of us right now—lost innocence, forever changed, shattered—it’s all just laying there, and this teddy bear is an example of what we are right now,” Krishnan recalls.
Another image that stuck with Krishnan was the mangled, twisted steel rising from where the twin towers once stood.
“It feels like you’re in a nightmare,” Krishnan says. “And then you think of all your friends.”
She says there was a frantic search to make contact with loved ones.
Of course, Krishnan was hardly the only person trying to locate family and friends. As a television reporter, many desperate people approached her to get word out about certain missing individuals among the thousands.
“It was just heart wrenching.”
For those who died on and around 9/11, it took Krishnan until the first anniversary to effectively mourn.
“I think that’s when I finally cried,” Krishnan tells FishbowlNY. “I get choked up thinking about it.”
Time may heal all wounds, but Krishnan still has trouble coming to grips with 9/11.
“There were no words to describe it,” Krishnan says. “Coming on the ten-year anniversary you have to put it into perspective. But I find ten years out, there still isn’t any clarity.
“I still haven’t been able to process most of it, like most people in the business, it’s difficult to understand,” Krishnan admits.
Tomorrow, a veteran of local morning news, and others from his broadcast discuss being on the air for the unthinkable.