The story broke across the country the morning of April 23rd. By the afternoon, it had broken worldwide. And it broke big. By the time I arrived at work that morning, my cubicle mate had taken about 20 messages for me from newspaper and TV stations around the country asking for interviews. The phone kept ringing, but I decided not to answer it and let everything go to voice mail. I was actually at a loss as to how to proceed. One interview with a local reporter was one thing, but national attention was a little hard to handle for a guy who liked to camp in the desert with a fire and his dog every weekend.
My boss at the time came into the computer room and said that the factory General Manager wanted to see me in his office. I entered the inter-chambers of power at the factory, which I had never been in before, and saw that the entire senior staff was present. After a round of handshakes and congratulations, the General Manger was asked me to have a seat and told my boss to go get coffee for everyone. This was my first indication of how different things were going to be for the next few weeks.
The General Manager said that the AT&T Corporate Public Relations Senior Vice-President wished to speak with me and dialed him on the speakerphone. When the Vice-President got on the line, he told me that I had been nominated for AT&T’s highest public service award, the Gold Vail Medal. Though the committee still had to meet later that day, he felt that the actions I had taken met the criteria and the award would happen.
I went over the story of the rescue with him and he said he would be in touch. After we hung up, I told the General Manager about the interview requests. He told me I could use the company phones for what ever calls I needed to make and could have whatever time off was necessary for the interviews.
I then headed back to my cubicle to start sorting through the message slips and figure out what to do with them. When I got back into the Computer room, my cubicle mate had even more message slips including one from the Operations Manger at the drop zone. I decided to start with him. Talking to a friend sounded better than sorting the pile of slips from strangers.
My friend told me that they were getting calls from newspaper and TV organizations asking for my phone number and interviews with me. He volunteered to come up and act as a sort of press agent to help organize all of it. I agreed since I felt this was getting out of hand real quick. I made arrangements for him to get shown up to my area when he arrived and decided to start returning some of the calls since it would take an hour for him to get there.
I was able to do only two interviews before he got there because one of them was the National Enquirer. They wanted a paid full interview and to make arrangements to get some aerial pictures recreating the rescue.
Finally, a knock came to the door and my friend came in. He said that a car from one of the local TV stations was waiting downstairs to take me over for an interview. While we were at that station, another station called and asked for an interview. The picked us up and took us to their station. After the second interview, I stayed at the station and did multiple telephone interviews with radio shows and newspapers across the nation and around the world. Then the third local station called and away we went to their place. After they taped an interview, we went to the hospital where Debbie was and attended a press conference. After that, we went back to one of the TV stations and did more radio and newspaper telephone interviews.
I lost count of how many telephone interviews I did. I do remember talking to a newspaper in Germany, a radio station in New Zealand, a magazine in Japan, and a TV talk show in Australia. All I had to do was tell my story over and over again and answer a few other questions. Talking about skydiving was what I liked to do so it came to me very easily.
We stayed there until about 7:00 pm. I missed seeing the network news broadcasts that evening when they showed the segment on the rescue, but I got copies later. Of the three networks, I liked the one done by NBC the best.
After having some dinner, we went back to my house to get some rest. When we got there, my roommate had a stack of messages from other news organizations. He told me that he had finally unplugged the phone and made me promise to buy an answering machine. The day finally worn off about midnight and I got to bed.
The following day, things would get even more hectic.