John Whitney, night news editor at BBC News, was one of the first people to realise the extent to which the tsunami had affected Southern Asia as he covered the BBC’s home desk in the early hours of Boxing Day morning.

“I really was not expecting much to happen.

“At around 4am I started taking calls from families whose relatives were on holiday in the disaster areas. They were calling the main switchboard and being put through to me.

“They were very distressed as they’d been contacted by their families who were either in need of help or were relaying their stories of survival to their loved ones at home. Some of the stories were horrific.

“I remember looking at the lines lighting up and thinking that this must be something big. To take 10 calls from the public between 5am and 6am on Boxing Day morning was unusual to say the least.

“A father telephoned saying that his daughter was in contact with him from Sri Lanka. It became apparent that she was very near our reporter Roland Buerk (son of Michael Buerk) who was on holiday in the same resort.

“Immediately we had a way of getting reports from Roland and we also linked the father and daughter up live on air.

“Mobile phones and the public were playing a huge part in the early stages of the story. I was writing copy and sending it to everyone in the building as well as putting people straight on air on Radio Five and News 24.

“The clips that we took that morning were used throughout the day into the evening, which shows how powerful they were.

“Mary Picken, who works at management level at the BBC, called in from Phuket where she was on holiday. Within seconds she was on air recounting what had happened.

“I was also in touch with the foreign office. It was clear they grasped the scale of this as well, as they had set up an emergency number.

“When I handed over to the breakfast news editor at 8am I stressed how big I thought the story was.

“I have never been involved with something like that, a story of such international scale.”

By Caitlin Pike

No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *