The assignment had more than its
share of surprises, including the
downplay of the significance of Leland's disappearance by his Washington staff, said Cobb.
"His staff was saying, 'Oh Mickey's a crazy guy, he does what he
wants to, we're not worried about
him,'" she said. "We seemed to take
it more seriously than they did, because our experience with Mickey in
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City was
just completely the opposite. We
were on a regimented schedule."
The mountainous Ethiopian terrain in the rainy season also surprised the reporters, who expected
everything from jungles to deserts.
Even U.S. Air Force personnel in the
search teams wore clothing inappropriate to the actual environment,
Other surprises included the absence of telephones at the airport,
stringently enforced curfews, telephone rates of $750 per hour at the
hotel, official Ethiopian "minders" to
prevent U.S. cameramen from taking
pictures of proscribed sights, and
primitive working conditions in
which money became the lubricant
to get the job done.
"You brought cash and bribed
everyone in the building," said
Dows, Zindler's cameraman.
Duckworth said, "The government
controlled the amount of time you
got on the transmitter and they tried
to gouge everybody for satellite time.
They had no equipment and the
technicians didn't know the gear.
And they didn't cooperate unless you
had money for them. It was a nightmare."
Amy Huggins agreed: "Sometimes
it was a miracle just to get something
David Einsel, Houston Chronicle
photographer, experienced problems
sending still photos back to the United States.
"The phone systems couldn't handle the frequencies, so we relayed
through AP in New York and
Reuters in Washington. And the time
difference had me up in the middle
of the night transmitting my photos,"
Although Ethiopia's state-
controlled television and newspaper
covered the story, none of the workers at the airport would talk to reporters, panelists said. In addition,
the constant presence of Ethiopian
troops carrying AK-47s at the airport
and in the city's streets added to the
Reingold was frustrated to find
that embassy officials were saying
only what they had been told to say
by Washington, D.C. The U.S. military spokesmen were even more
tight-lipped. The day Leland's plane
was found, an Air Force colonel
sought permission to tell reporters,
but the officer in charge had just arrived and didn't know what was going on. It delayed the release of the
"If it wasn't for Sen. Ackerman
spilling his guts at the airport, we
wouldn't have known anything
about the crash site," Dows said. "It
would have been just Air Force ter-
of the Mickey
following the SPJ
Photo by Robert
Eventually, the reporters made arrangements to pool information.
"If we'd screwed each other, we
wouldn't have gotten out of there,"
Huggins said. "We fed the pool
Einsel displayed several photographs of the crash site taken from
the open door of a C-130 transport
The totality of the destruction at
the crash location astounded several
panel members. The force of the impact was demonstrated by the fact
the Air Force returned only 13 body
bags for the 16 people aboard Leland's plane. Theories on the cause
of the crash abound.
After viewing the site from the air,
Einsel surmised, "The pilot looked
like he was following the river, just
under the weather. And from the
burn spot, it looks like he just nosed
straight into the mountain. If he'd
been 200 feet higher, he would have
cleared the ridge and gotten into valley. But he just went straight in —
Despite obstacles, technical glitches and last-minute scrambling, Houston's media was quick to realize that
Houston's news isn't limited to the
"Our station will go anywhere
where there's a story or a problem
that involves people in this area,"
Zindler said. "The only thing different I'd do is to make sure we have
the equipment to send the stuff