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Covering the Santee plane crash

 October 15, 2021 at 2:00 PM PDT

Speaker 1: (00:00)

This week on the round table, tragedy in east county, two lives are lost and others are upended. When a small plane crashes into homes near a high school. How to reporters tell a traumatic story like this investigative journalism recognized at the highest level, the Nobel peace prize goes to two reporters. What does that say about the threats to a shared common truth? And we'll meet the new voice to KPBS news, who will be telling San Diego stories along the border. I met Hoffman and this is KPBS round table.

Speaker 2: (00:31)


Speaker 3: (00:43)

Climb immediately climb the airplane, maintain 5,000 X, the right climb, climb the, a plane, please.

Speaker 4: (00:50)

A plane crashed into this ups Cox and into this house right by our neighborhood. Oh my God. I saw the plane coming down

Speaker 5: (01:02)

With all luck. We'll be able to put some of the pieces together. Um, but most importantly, I mean, like I said, we could be doing much different interviews with us right now. And, uh, aren't important.

Speaker 6: (01:14)

Yeah. I mean, to get them back would be amazing. But in the end,

Speaker 1: (01:20)

This is all that matters. Those are just some of the sounds from air traffic control neighbors and victims of a tragic moment. This week in Santi, it's going to take more than a few days to process. What happened on that residential street just blocks from Santana high school. Two people were killed in an older couple was badly hurt in a small plane crash at the controls was a cardiologist flying solo from Yuma to San Diego. The first images were captured by smartphones and doorbell cameras before local media was there to tell the story. Let's check in with one of the reporters who has been out there this week. Jamie chambers from Fox five, San Diego. Hey Jamie.

Speaker 7: (01:54)

Hey man. How are you doing Jamie? You

Speaker 1: (01:55)

You've been a reporter for many years here in Southern California and have been in countless of these breaking news situations. What was your initial reaction when you arrived at that scene? On Monday,

Speaker 7: (02:04)

When you roll up on the scenes, you try to process what's going on. And the first thing that really jumped out at me is I couldn't figure out where the impact was. And we were looking at twisted metal from a boat, from a couple of cars, two houses, and that delivery van. And you couldn't tell where the plane started and where the cars and the trucks ended. So it was just this mash of twisted metal, burning houses and frantic people. So it was really tough to make out what was going on when you first rolled up on scene. One of the things that is always hard in these early moments of any of these breaking news stories is to just take a beat, take a breath, and then try to process what you absolutely know and wipe out what you're not sure of. Because in this particular case, we were looking at some of the most brutal, gruesome scenes up close.

Speaker 7: (03:03)

And you really are filtering that for some of the audience because it's, it's just too gruesome to show some of the pictures. And you, you kind of take that with you, but that's part of the job. So the first things we saw were the houses being controlled by the firefighters who had rolled up. We're trying to get their arms around the fire from bouncing to another house. Hazardous materials teams were coming on scene, trying to make it safe for their firefighters, all the while, trying to keep intact the vital investigation evidence that was in the scene. Bits of human remains, bits of twisted metal bits of that plane that is still wedged in that house. So they can start to take care of all the people that they can rescue, roll them out, and then start that investigation. And when it comes to the impact from this plane, there was nothing they could do for the pilot. There was nothing they could do for that ups driver, Steve Krueger.

Speaker 1: (04:00)

You mentioned that dramatic scene. Is there anything that has sort of stuck with you from this crash?

Speaker 7: (04:05)

One of the things in oddly enough, it wasn't the crash site that struck me the most as I was rolling up, there was a house that was at least a block and a half away, and the windows had been shattered out by the impact of the crash. And as I was rolling up, I realized this is something different. This is something so impactful. This wasn't a skimming of a plane. This was a, just a concussions, almost a straight down strike to make something that, uh, custody, concussive and bust out windows on a block and a half away. And then when you rolled up onto the house, you saw just the mayhem and the twisted metal and burning structures. So that first moment was a little bit overwhelming, even having seen many terrible scenes in my day and breaking news over the, over the years, but that one will stick with me, probably my whole career and all the things that you've seen. And I've seen, I've been a reporter at KT LA for 10 years and down here for 10 years here in San Diego, that scene is one that, that all I'll remember forever, just because of the dramatic impact of that plane and the immediate loss of life, because of the mechanism of injury with that Cessna striking that ground.

Speaker 1: (05:26)

It's such a visual story. And that's part of the reason we wanted to talk with a TV reporter for this. This was a very graphic situation with people injured and in distress, as you described, when you approach a breaking news situation like this, what do you think about or consider when deciding what to show and how to tell the story?

Speaker 7: (05:42)

Yeah, it's, it's re it is a challenge. There were body parts on the ground. There were body bags left out. There were rescuers taking pieces of human remains from the scene. And you want tell the story, but also what's the news value of seeing that graphic material. So the story is critical, but maybe not see that graphic material. We're also trying to be sensitive to family members that have lost a loved one or someone that is still searching for that loved one. So we really try to be sensitive to those people who have just lost someone. I mean, we imagine ourselves having lost to someone in that and that sense, and how would you want that seem to be shown to that family who by the way, is most likely watching, because they know the people that live in that area are desperate for information from that area. So it weighs on you and it is a heavy burden and it's a responsibility to make sure that you do it in the most factual and also a sensitive way when you're moving that information out.

Speaker 1: (06:50)

Once the story has sort of settled a little bit. Is there any thought that goes into what to show going forward?

Speaker 7: (06:55)

Yes. If you showed something that was a little bit graphic, you don't need to be gratuitous. You don't need to show it again. And again, some parts of a story you show maybe once the impact of, of the plane. So people get a sense of what just took place, because you can see that, but you don't need to show that over and over again, it becomes too much. It was a terrible moment for Santi all the, while this the stuff that I loved showing the stuff that I think was important for people to see, and it really brings the community together. The barefoot rescuers that came and smashed out a window and rescued the couple. And you see the couple of merging from the smoke filled living room of their house that has been completely gutted by this impact. And you see them panicked and desperate and injured, but alive and walking away.

Speaker 7: (07:52)

And it was a heartwarming and a magnificent bravery and rescue by their neighbors. And that's the kind of stuff that I never feel like we can show enough of. And I was exceptionally happy to show that I think that that whole community will remember this. They will never forget where they were on that day, about 1215, when that says now careened into their community. And for those few brave neighbors that were able to rescue those two people out of that literal burning building. And remember, they're not wearing the fire gear. They're not wearing respirators, they're not wearing shoes and they still risk their lives. They put themselves in harm's way to rescue their neighbors. And that's what I hope the community remembers forever as well.

Speaker 1: (08:47)

Definitely some heroic acts out there. What do we know about the pilot involved here? Has anything come out yet on what troubles? Some have speculated that he might've been having during this flight?

Speaker 7: (08:57)

Uh, there has been speculation as to what some of the troubles were having spoken to experts that are pilots in the area that know the area really well. There was a, a low ceiling, low cloud cover, and people are known to get a little bit disoriented in that area for people that I've known that have grown up in Santi, that particular neighborhood is elevated and it's sort of a, an outlier. So the cardiologist was from all, all the reports that I've spoken to was an excellent pilot, knew what he was doing flew constantly that same route. But, um, we really won't know what took place until the NTSB goes through the investigation.

Speaker 1: (09:41)

And we know that the NTSB has said it can take up to 24 months to do a full investigation in some of these fatal crashes and Santi mayor, John Minto is bringing up the issue of flight paths. And this isn't the first deadly incident involving planes in and out of Montgomery Gibbs, executive airport, up in Kearny Mesa. Do you anticipate this issue? We'll get a closer

Speaker 7: (10:01)

When it comes to smaller aircraft and you've been in the news quite a while, too, man. You understand that there are crashes from time to time, they're relatively rare, but in some cases they certainly catch everyone's attention. We had a plane crash just the other day on the five freeway. Luckily no one was hurt. There were a couple of cars that were crashed. There was another plane, hard landing on the five freeway in Carlsbad and maybe a year prior to that. So these types of accidents are not unheard of they're outliers, but anytime you have a couple of small airports, there's always going to be some risk of a plane landing. In that area.

Speaker 1: (10:40)

You caught up with the brother of the ups driver who was killed in that tragic accident, simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Steve Kruger was close to retirement. And what have you learned about him and how he ended up in that fatal situation on Monday? Yes,

Speaker 7: (10:54)

Steve was a wonderfully beloved brother. Jeff was heartbroken about all of that, but Steve was essentially doing his normal route heading to Santi, just wrapping up the packages that he had to deliver. Uh, apparently he was just a month away from retirement. He had a long career from workers that he knew workers that I spoke with that were at the ups transit hub in Kearny Mesa. They said that he'd worked there for 30 years plus he was just retiring and they just had nothing but warm, loving memories of Steve real adventurous guy, a barefoot water skier, sort of, uh, uh, a wild guy that was a true company, man would wear the uniform even when he was on vacation to take fun pictures and different areas. But it's a heartbreaking moment. And from the neighbors that knew Steve on his specific route in Santi, he was a fixture in the community and they would wave and they would talk. And they, they had built a really lovely relationship with Steve, especially during the pandemic, because he was bringing so many products to the area, so many critical products that they might not be able to get at the shelves in the stores. And so he, he was a bit of a fixture. They're going to be holding a vigil for him. Uh, and it's going to be, it's going to be over

Speaker 1: (12:20)

At the top. We heard a bit from the Campbells. Those are a young couple who had just bought their first home. And luckily weren't there at the time of the crash. What have you heard from those whose homes and lives were affected by this

Speaker 7: (12:31)

Emotionally? It's been an impact, but it's something it seems when you talk to all the neighbors, they say the same thing over and over, and it's, it's really, this can't really happen. This, this was such a lightning strike out of the blue. There's no way to prepare or protect yourself from something like this. So it's something that a lot of the folks I spoke with kind of just excused, well, what are the odds of this ever happening? So it's heartbreaking in an instance, but it's also something that can't be protected, can't be planned for. So they just kind of move on with their lives and remember the people that they lost. And most importantly, remember the actions of the heroic five or six neighbors that really did save two lives that day.

Speaker 1: (13:20)

We've been speaking with Jamie chambers, a reporter for Fox five San Diego. Thanks so much for your time.

Speaker 7: (13:24)

Jamie, thanks, man. Good to be here

Speaker 8: (13:30)

Then a weijden Nobel committee has decided to award the Nobel peace prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dimitri muratov for their efforts to save God freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace

Speaker 1: (13:58)

And a rare move. The Nobel prize committee is highlighting the work of journalists for this year's Nobel peace prize. It goes to two reporters who have risked their freedom and lives to expose the truth in places that have become increasingly hostile to that kind of work. The Philippines and Russia. This moment serves as a reminder that the work of journalists is becoming increasingly difficult at a time when political threats and economic conditions make the job that much harder. Joining us for a discussion on the importance of investigative journalism is mark Rochester, managing editor for San Diego based I new source, which is also a news partner of KPBS. Hey mark, good afternoon. How are you doing well? We should note that I, new source got a chance to talk with one of the winners Maria Ressa for an online event earlier this year. We'll hear a portion of that soon, but first mark, give us your general reaction. What does it mean to have the work of journalism elevated in this way?

Speaker 9: (14:47)

So such a meaningful recognition of the work that investigative reporters and other reporters, uh, do every day, the need for hard hitting investigative reporting that routes out corruption and malfeasance has never been more important than it has been the last couple of years. And to have Nobel committee recognize this work, it doesn't just highlight the importance of the work, but it also recognizes these two reporters. Who've literally put their lives on the line every day, they do their job. You know, they get daily death threats all the time as a result of their work. And to keep pursuing this work in the face of that kind of danger is truly,

Speaker 1: (15:22)

And we mentioned that, uh, Maria Ressa has connection with a new source. She took part in an online discussion back in may with you guys and your CEO, Lori Hearn. Here's what Ressa had to say about reporting on authoritarians and corruption in general,

Speaker 10: (15:34)

Make people doubt when you make them doubt people, the targets of attacks, institutions, truth tellers. When people don't know whom to believe the voice with the loudest megaphone the person in power gains.

Speaker 1: (15:54)

Now people might think, well, that's in the Philippines or Russia, but what are the obstacles that we're seeing here in the United States when it comes to trust in journalists?

Speaker 9: (16:02)

I think you see the same sort of forces at play. Oftentimes government officials, company executives, they will attack the journalists doing the work as opposed to confronting the allegations or the issues that have been raised by the journalists. I've seen this in many of the newsrooms I've worked in where typically government officials will totally denounce the reporters sometimes in very public ways. And simply say that, oh, this person is dishonest. This person's up to get us. This person has an agenda and they don't actually address any of the allegations that the journalist was just bringing. And it's become almost a playbook used by in many cases, local government officials and even state government officials around the country. Thankfully it doesn't always work. And the, the journalism actually shines through,

Speaker 1: (16:49)

I forget the co winner of this year's Nobel prize, Russian journalist Dimitria muratov. What do you think listeners should know about him?

Speaker 9: (16:56)

Clearly, a shining example of a journalist who is fearless in his pursuit of corruption. I thought it was remarkable that when he was notified about winning the award, he basically said, you know, this award should really go to the six journalists who've been killed since we started this organization in the nineties. And he basically he's been even more vigorous in his challenge to the Russian government that his newsroom is going to pursue this work, no matter how many threats we face, that's a remarkable commitment to expose them the truth.

Speaker 1: (17:26)

And investigative reporting is often where some of these big stories start, what should readers, listeners and viewers know about the level of work and detail that goes into a story before it's finished and published

Speaker 9: (17:35)

Well, and I need source and many other newsrooms, you know, we are very committed to both transparency and accuracy in our reporting. And so we go to great lengths to vet our own work. Before it's published, we go through several rounds of editing and then a fact checking process is very similar to what magazines do, where the reporter sits down with an editor. And we go through the story word by word blind by line. And the reporter must prove to the editor that everything we're saying in this story is true. And so we literally stop at word, the editor asks, well, how do we know that this is true? How do we, what is your evidence for stating this fact? And so, uh, when you do that in a consistent, comprehensive manner, uh, you have a great deal of competence that your work is both accurate and fair. And it separates us from the other kinds of journalism and other types of information that's out there. That's why we promote right on a website. You can trust our work for these reasons. Here's here are the steps you've gone through to make sure the story is accurate.

Speaker 1: (18:32)

Sure. You can follow. I knew sources work at, I knew I've been speaking with managing editor, mark Rochester. Thanks, mark.

Speaker 9: (18:39)

Thank you very much for your time

Speaker 1: (18:42)

Before we go. We want to check in with a brand new voice here at KPBS news. In recent years, Gustavo solace has reported for the San Diego union Tribune and voice of San Diego. Now he's covering the border and all the stories that come with it for KPBS and you listeners. He's here to talk about this week's big story. The end of most COVID travel restrictions and the stories he hopes to tell going forward. Welcome Gustavo. Thank you, Matt. So first off, let's start with the story we've been following this week about the cross border travel restrictions, some long awaited news there for many Gustavo what's happening and what are things expected to ease up?

Speaker 11: (19:16)

That's the news of the week? I think news of the month for a lot of people, it's been 18 months since the pandemic almost started that people non essential travelers as they're called, have not been able to cross from Tiguan up north to San Diego and starting in November to some of them will, which is just a huge field, right? The way DHS is handling these new rules is in two phases. So phase one begins in November and that's when non essential travelers for Mexico will be able to walk into the U S as long as they have a proof of vaccination phase two begins in January, and that's when the HS is going to require essential. And non-essential travelers both to have that proof of vaccination.

Speaker 1: (19:57)

So you covered south bay neighborhoods for the UT. How much is cross border travel and commerce part of the social fabric in this part of the county.

Speaker 11: (20:05)

This is just in every way you can think of really. I mean, it's kind of hard to, to over state it, but the economic one is just easier to quantify because you have the numbers, right? The, the San Ysidro chamber of commerce has been checking this stuff since the closure has happened. Uh, I think last time I checked, they Mart about $600 million in lost sales between March of this year, March last year, uh, 200 businesses closed almost 2000 jobs lost, right? Those are kind of hard numbers so that we can see and think about it and understand, but there are so many more parts of the social fabric that deal with being in a bicultural binational region, just looking at politics, right? Uh, Jaime is the outgoing governor, Baja, California. He used to live in Chula Vista and he served in the old Tidewater port.

Speaker 11: (20:53)

Uh, Imperial beach mayor serves to Dina. He has a nonprofit that focuses on environmental issues on the north and south side of the border surfers in San Diego. They'll chase down big swells in Baja during the winter time for medical reasons, right? Families in the south bay have primary care doctors in Tijuana that they've been going to for years and even like housing, right? How many retirees will retire south of the border? Because their money goes further or even working class families who have been priced out of San Diego's rising rental market are finding that their money goes a little bit further south of the border. So there's some, just some of the many ways that those cross border essential and non-essential crossword travel is part of the fabric, especially down here in the south bay.

Speaker 1: (21:38)

And Gustavo has some families not been able to see each other during this last 18 months. Could we be seeing some family reunions? Yeah.

Speaker 11: (21:44)

Yeah. I think that's fair to say, like, I'll use my own family as an example. I have family that lives in Mexico city when they normally come to visit me, they'll fly to Tijuana, take the cross-border express and just walk to San Diego, but they haven't been able to do that. They have to fly to LA my grandma's 88. She can't drive. So I have to take time off work to go pick her up at lax and then drive her down here. It's a minor inconvenience for my family, but we're privileged enough that we can afford that. Right. We can afford the airfare for Mexico to LA, which is more expensive than Mexico to Tijuana. And I had that job that had the flexibility for me to take some time off, but families in Tijuana who have relatives in San Diego may not have the means to do that. So while some can fly, if you can't fly, there's really no other way to get through.

Speaker 1: (22:32)

I'm sure this is something you'll be looking at in the coming weeks ahead, but let's look more broadly at your new beat. Why are you interested in telling stories relating to the border?

Speaker 11: (22:40)

I think it's still a really fun region, really interesting region to cover. I've lived on both sides of the border. Most of it on the us side, but I was born in Mexico city. I have family down there and I think the border kind of gets pigeon-holed into integration, crime, traffic, border patrol, but there's so much more than that. I want to explore right from arts culture, food real estate, business sports, there is just such a vibrant part of our region. I don't think it's really gotten as much attention as it deserves. And I just really excited by the opportunity to get HS to cover it.

Speaker 1: (23:19)

So you were born in Mexico city and grew up here in San Diego. Why do you think it's important to have those roots when approaching a beat like that?

Speaker 11: (23:26)

Yes, I think it definitely helps speaking Spanish, speaking English. I can speak to people on both sides of the border without that language barrier, culturally, I can navigate in Taiwan as easily as I can in San Diego. I think those open doors and that'll make my job a little bit easier. Now it's no substitute for the reporting and writing and investigative background, but it certainly does help.

Speaker 1: (23:51)

And I know you mentioned that there's so much out there story-wise any particular ones or themes you're interested in exploring in the short term short of tell us what has your attention right now?

Speaker 11: (24:01)

So in the short-term I want to expand, like I said, a little bit, our understanding of the border you're growing up in San Diego, whenever I would tell my friends, even some relatives or even people visiting that I was going down to Tijuana. The first question more often than not was, is it safe? Which kind of came from a good place, I think, but it fails to take into account the totality of the border region, right? Is it safe? Yes. It's safe. I've gone a lot of times I've gone hundreds of times over there. And once you get over that little hurdle that is it safe hurdle, then you can kind of start appreciating everything that's down there, uh, how it contributes to, to the U S where you can gain from it. Right. We were talking about the economic effect of the closure, right?

Speaker 11: (24:50)

Sandy Seadrill has lost $600 million in lost revenue in the last year, thinking of what that means to our own tax base, right? That's mostly coming from consumers who live south of the border. I think a lot of times we focus on, on some of the more negative and maybe controversial aspects of the borderlands at the expense of some of the more collaborative and positive and just under-reported stories down there. So I think without going into too many specifics and what specific stories I might have tells us, kind of the ethos I want to bring to the beat.

Speaker 1: (25:24)

Well, we'll certainly be following your work and looking forward to hearing more from you in the weeks ahead, I've been talking with Gustavo, so least the new border reporter for KPBS news. Thanks so much, Gustavo. Well, thank you, Matt. Thanks so much for tuning into this week's edition of the round table and thank you to my guests. Jamie chambers from Fox five San Diego, mark Rochester from my new source and KPBS border reporter Gustavo. So lease if you missed any part of our show, you can listen anytime on the KPBS Roundtable podcast, I'm Matt Hoffman. Join us next week on the round table.

Speaker 2: (25:56)


Carlos Castillo
Reporters surround first responders at the scene of a plane crash in Santee, Calif. Oct. 11, 2021.
KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion on the deadly small plane crash in Santee and how news organizations handle graphic breaking news situations. Plus, the importance of investigative journalism as two reporters are recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize. And an introduction to the new KPBS border reporter.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion on the deadly small plane crash in Santee and how news organizations handle graphic breaking news situations, the importance of investigative journalism as two reporters are recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize, and an introduction to the new KPBS border reporter. Guests include Jaime Chambers from Fox 5 San Diego, Mark J. Rochester from inewsource, and Gustavo Solis from KPBS News.