York alum reports Air France crash on his first day at CBC

Few people can say they had as exciting a first day on the job as York alumnus Nick Czernkovich (BSc ‘03), CBC Television’s newest on-air weather expert. The Faculty of Science & Engineering graduate had barely finished touring the CBC’s Front Street studios and filling out his personnel forms last Tuesday when word about the crash of Air France Flight 358 hit the newsroom and he was thrown into doing frontline journalism for the first time in his life.

Within minutes, Czernkovich, a qualified meteorologist, was headed to Pearson International Airport with a camera crew, ready to talk about how weather conditions were at the time the plane landed, skidded off the runway and burst into flames.

Above: Drivers watch as the Air France plane burns after running off the runway during its landing at Pearson International Airport. (CP photo/Jorge Rios)

“We were just about to leave for the day,” said Czernkovich. “I had my bag in my hand and was heading for the door, when the producer said ‘there’s been a crash, how would you feel about going on air?’”

Nick CzernkovichWith no journalism training and dressed in a golf shirt, he set about studying the thunderstorms that had raged over Pearson’s runways as the pilots tried to land the flight from Paris with 309 people on board. After gathering his data and analyzing it, Czernkovich was interviewed by the CBC news team and speculated on what the pilots experienced as they brought the plane in.

Right: Nick Czerknovich

In fact, Czernkovich was uniquely qualified for that initial on-air interview. He is a licensed pilot and intimately familiar with what it feels like to land an aircraft in heavy weather, albeit nothing so large as an Airbus A-340. “There was a wind shift amendment issued at 16:04. If the [co-pilot] had landed two minutes later, this probably wouldn’t have happened,” he said, adding that all comments about the causes of the crash are speculation until the Transportation Safety Board issues its findings.

Although careful not to say anything too definitive pending that investigation, Czernkovich admits, “I do have ideas” about what happened. “I know from experience as a pilot that everything looks different from the surface. People don’t know what these pilots were experiencing up there, things happen so quickly.”

The Toronto-born science buff, who studied earth & atmospheric science at York before doing his master’s degree at Montreal’s McGill University, was eager to do what he loves – talk about the weather – but said he did have some trepidation about giving opinions on such an important story his first time on air. “I was excited and just tried to tell myself, ‘don’t draw any conclusions or say anything stupid.’”

The interview went off without a hitch and within moments was being broadcast across Canada. The next day, friends from across the country had called or e-mailed, saying they saw him on TV.

And people will be seeing a lot more of Czernkovich on TV in the coming weeks, as he takes up his role of meteorologist/weather presenter at CBC Television’s new Weather Centre. Part of a programming makeover for the new season, Czernkovich joins another York meterologist alum, Natasha Ramsahai (MSc ’01), as part of the three-person crew that will provide 50-60 weather segments a day nationally. The weather centre reports will likely start appearing on CBC Newsworld in late August before they are launched officially on Sept. 12.