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Saying Farewell To Stacy Smith Part 2

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During his 50-year career, Stacy has covered countless breaking news stories. While they're all important, it's the major tragedies that are still vividly seared into his memory. Ken Rice has the second part of KDKA's farewell to Stacy Smith.

Video Transcript

- July 17, 1981. That's Stacy Smith on the scene of one of the biggest breaking news stories in Kansas City's history. Two walkways collapsed at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, killing 114 people and injuring more than 200 others. Stacy was there covering it for his then station, WDAF TV. Today, we continue our three day celebration of Stacy's incredible 50 year career with 38 of those years here at KDKA.

During his career, Stacy has covered countless breaking news stories. And while they're all important, it's the major tragedies that are still vividly seared into his memory. Here's Ken Rice with the second part of KDKA's farewell to Stacy Smith.

KEN RICE: September 8, 1994, US Air Flight 427 crashes in Hopewell Township on approach to Pittsburgh International Airport. Stacy had been at KDKA for 11 years at that point.

STACY SMITH: We'd just finished the 6 o'clock newscast. And I had just walked off the set. And somebody had said to me, there was talk of a plane crash. And I said well, you hear a plane crash, you're thinking it's a small plane, that has a crash. And then we get word that, no. This is probably one it's a jet. It's a commercial jetliner.

And so at that point, Connie Cheung who was filling in for Dan Rather that night anchoring the CBS Evening News. And something that you you just don't do is interrupt the national newscast with a local breaking story. You just don't do it. We did it.

KEN RICE: You guys were being carried not just in Pittsburgh, but nationally.

STACY SMITH: We have crews at the scene. But as you can imagine, with a tragedy such as this, with 126 people on board, this flight and a Philadelphia based crew that it is extremely difficult for our news crews to be able to get to the scene.

STACY SMITH: We had several phone calls and people were describing how the plane was coming in and it rolled over like this and went down. But these are eyewitnesses. You don't discount what the eyewitness says. But you always want to wait and get more of an official word as to what's happening. Our executive producer at the time Jocelyn Howe, I'm in the newsroom set. And she could walk all the way over to this side and not be seen. And Jocelyn went like this to me. So I'm on by myself. And I looked over at her and she mouthed the words.

And I looked back at the camera I said, just one moment please. And I said, are you absolutely sure? And she said, yes. I still get choked up. I turn back to the camera and took a breath and I said, there are no survivors. Now the reason I get choked up over that, and it's emotional is because, as you well know, sitting on the anchor desk, people are watching you, they're listening to you, and they want to believe what you're saying.

And if you're going to say that there are no survivors, in the back of your mind, you also know that there are relatives, there are friends, there are acquaintances of the people who were on that flight. And they're not getting any information yet from any place else. So they've tuned in to television to watch. And you're the one who's telling them that all those people died.

I take great responsibility in making sure that if I'm going to say that, that it's right.

KEN RICE: 132 people lost their lives that night. And 20 years after the crash, Stacy learned that his gut instinct about being the one to deliver the news to some of their loved ones was right.

STACY SMITH: I was invited to speak to the survivors group. And I told that story. And there were about three or four people who mouthed the words, there are no survivors, as I said it and then came up to me and said, that's how I learned.

KEN RICE: September 11, 2001. The attack on America. Nearly 3,000 killed, more than 6,000 injured in New York, at the Pentagon, and here in our backyard.

STACY SMITH: And here locally, a United Airlines flight, number 93 from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco has crashed in Somerset County. As I got up, I was listening to the radio and there was a report that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. I think just about everybody, well, again, a small plane had crashed in. And then the reports started coming in that it was probably larger than that. And you think, wow, something went wrong with the guidance system or whatever it might be.

And by the time I was dressed, the other plane had gone into it. And I just came into work. I mean, that situation, that's what you do. It turned out to be a very long day.

KEN RICE: October 27, 2018, a man opens fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, killing 11, wounding six.

STACY SMITH: Someone texted me and said, are you going into the station? And I'm, why wouldn't I go into the station? I mean, I didn't have a radio on, didn't have a TV on, I had no idea.

KEN RICE: Stacy later joined me and most of the rest of our news team as we provided coverage for more than 10 hours that day.

STACY SMITH: It was I think a phenomenal gathering, almost spur of the moment kind of thing after the shooting took place. The loss of 11 lives, several people critically wounded, others recovering from their wounds. Someone had asked me about which one of these stories stand out. And you've covered enough of them as well. They're grouped into tragedy stories. And not a single one stands out over and above another one. But this one was unnerving because it was not an accident or something, a malfeasance by somebody.

This was a deliberate attack on somebody.

KEN RICE: I've always marveled at your ability to, I don't know how you do it, because it certainly gets to me when I'm out there. But you seem to have just a command, a calm that you are able to project that nobody would ever guess what's going on in your ear as well as within your field of vision that the viewers can't see. How do you describe that ability to do that?

STACY SMITH: I can't. I don't know. It's just part of me, I guess. I don't take chances on a lot of things. I know what my limitations are. Doesn't say that I don't test those limitations sometimes. But I'm not going to sit out here and go with something that I'm not sure of what it is.

KEN RICE: This job, people ask me, how do you do it? Every day you're sitting in that chair and you're talking about terrible things. And yet you seem like you're a fairly-- you seem to be a fairly normal person. How did you deal with that after all these years?

STACY SMITH: I think you set up a wall. I think it's similar to what police officers do and firefighters who see tragedy, that you set up a wall, that you try not to let it come in and affect you personally. But I think you will agree that there are times you do walk away from here and you start to reflect. And you can let some emotions out at some other times. The thing I've always tried to remember, Ken, is that even that car accident, that's somebody. That's somebody's life. That somebody's relative who just lost a loved one.

- Wow. Remarkable memories. I mean stories that impacted Pittsburgh, and the world, and you.

STACY SMITH: Yeah. Oh, it does. It affects us out here at the anchor desk. And it's just as I say. Sometimes you have to put up a wall. There are so many other breaking news stories we covered here through the years too. The Exxon oil spill back in the '80s, which went down the Ohio River, the tornadoes in 1985 were huge stories as well, the bomb hammer shooting, so many stories. And that's why I say you can't really pick one out over the other. So--

- Yeah. Well, and you are a consummate storyteller.

STACY SMITH: Well, thank you.

- Thank you.