‘Get us back on the air!’ Former FOX4 anchors recount chaos of covering 9/11 attacks live

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of people in Kansas City were getting ready for another Tuesday, many of them watching the FOX4 morning show.

Former FOX4 anchors Toby Cook and Heather McMichael were the only Kansas City news team live on air that morning. They were anchoring the 7 a.m. newscast when the first plane hit.

“We were in the middle of a story and a producer came on in our ear, and she said, ‘There’s something going on in New York, breaking news in New York. I don’t know what’s going on. Just go to break after this,'” Cook said.

He remembers their camera operator Mike seeing one of the studio monitors that was showing a feed of the FOX News Channel.

“Mike yelled, ‘Oh my God!’ and pointed in between me and Heather. And we turned around, and you saw the tower on fire,” Cook said. “I think it was the only time in my life I directed from the set and said, ‘Get us back on the air!’ And we dumped out of the commercial break, and we were live on TV with it.”

Like many in America, McMichael remembers not knowing what was going on — an unsteady feeling when you’re delivering the news to thousands of people.

“When you go on the news in the morning or any newscast, you know the facts, you know the stories, you’re in control of the show, right? But that was the one time in my career where we didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “It was chaos.”

“At first we thought just like everybody in America, it was some kind of a freak accident, that the pilot, somehow, there was an error. But then — what was it, Toby? — 18 minutes later the second plane hit, and it was then we knew the horrible truth,” McMichael added. “The jets were being used as missiles, and our country would never be the same.”

Cook said FOX soon came on with a Level One update, meaning affiliates are required to take the network’s feed.

“That happened just before the second tower was hit. And there was an anchor I remember, John Scott, who said, ‘That has to be an attack!’” Cook said. “And talk about chills going down your spine.”

They both recalled the moment they realized the magnitude of what was happening.

“Then these reports were coming out about another plane hit, and something else has hit the Pentagon,” Cook said. “And Heather reached over and grabbed my hand and said, ‘When is this going to stop?’ And I’ll never forget that moment.”

For McMichael, that tragic day provided another sobering fear.

“The other thing that I remember, just on a personal note, is that I was five months pregnant at the time of 9/11 and Toby’s wife was also pregnant, so he had a pregnant work wife and a pregnant real wife,” she said. “And my senses were obviously heightened being pregnant, and I do remember thinking what kind of a world am I bringing a child into?”

But the fear didn’t stop on Sept. 11. Anthrax attacks, new security at airports and events, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would quickly follow.

Cook and McMichael are both grateful we’ve not faced another attack on American soil and for the military who serve to protect us.

“My father served, but I have a son in the Air Force now. He was stationed overseas. He was in Qatar for a time, and I prayed every night for his safe return,” McMichael said. “And he’s fine; he’s coming back to the states. But you know, I would just say thank you to the men and women who serve our nation and kept us safe these last 20 years.”

Watch McMichael and Cook’s full interview for the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in the video player below.

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