Jay Janner of the Austin American-Statesman remembers how a seemingly ordinary workday in the Texas capitol quickly turned into a major breaking national news day on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010. With the direction of Assistant Director of Photography Nell Carroll the Statesman’s photographers find themselves in the right place at the right time.

A large plume of black smoke rose in the distance.  I was driving through north Austin to a routine assignment at the beginning of my Thursday morning shift on Feb. 18.  Just as I noticed the smoke I got a call from the Statesman’s Assistant Director of Photography Nell Carroll who told me to forget about my assignment and instead go to a house fire.

When I arrived the house was still engulfed in flames.  It was a big fire. I worked the scene for about ten minutes, and then I got another call from Nell.  She told me there was even bigger news unfolding not far away. A small plane had crashed into a building in northwest Austin.

So I quickly left the house fire, which was still burning out of control, and headed a few miles away to the scene of the plane crash. On the way there I saw another large plume of black smoke.  Someone on the radio said the building housed the IRS offices, and immediately I figured this was probably a deliberate act.

Traffic was moving slowly and some roads were closed so I parked my car at a shopping center across the highway from the plane crash.  It was quite a distance from the building.  That’s where I took my first photo.

It took me awhile to walk across the highway overpass and down the road and then talk my way past a police checkpoint but eventually I got near the building.

Meanwhile, my co-worker Alberto Martinez was in a helicopter on his way to the site.  He barely had time to take any photos before authorities ordered the chopper out of the area.  Luckily, he didn’t need much time to nail the shot.

Statesman staff photographer Rodolfo Gonzalez arrived on the scene, and was escorted very briefly to the front of the building where he took photos of investigators sifting through the wreckage of the plane.

I went to the backside of the building to attempt to photograph people’s reactions to the event. I found Elizabeth Hogeda-Romo who was sitting on a curb behind the building. She was visibly shaken.  She said she witnessed the crash from an adjacent building.

It was discovered that the house fire I was photographing earlier belonged to Andrew Joseph Stack, the same man who flew the plane into the building.  So my co-worker Deborah Cannon was scrambled back to the house fire to take more photos.

Next to arrive at the IRS building were Statesman staffers Ralph Barrera and Larry Kolvoord who were stationed across the highway directly in front of the building.  They had a clear view of the whole scene, and made several photos of firefighters and investigators throughout the rest of the day.

I was stationed at the media staging area for press conferences, and just in case any more media tours were organized.

It was a day that will be remembered in Austin for a long time.  And it was a day that I’ll always remember for being part of a great group of photojournalists who worked together  as a team to cover one of the biggest news events in recent Austin history.

Jay Janner has been a staff photographer at the Austin American-Statesman since 2003. Previously he was a staff photographer at the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

He is a two-time NPPA Region 8 Photographer of the Year and a three-time Cox Newspapers Photographer of the Year. He has been named Photographer of the Year by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Headliners Foundation of Texas.

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