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On September 11, 2001, the world lost its innocence when terrorists crashed hijacked airplanes into The World Trade Centre, The Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania.
This is my story of where I was and what I was doing when I first heard the news.
I was living in Sydney. It was around about 11pm and I was preparing to go bed when my best friend Dave called me and told me that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York. I didn’t even know what the World Trade Centre was.
I turned on the television and was confronted with both buildings on fire with smoke billowing out of each building. The reporters were explaining that terrorists had crashed commercial airliners in each building.
Images of people crying and watching in horror at the scene unfolding before them occupied the screen.
My mother was staying with us at the time and she had just gone to bed. I decided pretty quickly that this was the biggest story in the world for the last 50 years so I woke her as I felt she would want to be watching this event as it unfolded. I tried waking my wife but she was too tired and couldn’t be stirred with some gentle persuasion. She slept through the night.
Reports were saying that there was another aircraft uncontactable and another hijacking was possibly taking place. I remember thinking that this is just the media sensationalising an already sensational event. Not long afterwards the news feed from the US was showing an explosion at the Pentagon which ended up being one of the hijacked planes reported not long before.
Then images I thought I would never see in my life filled my screen. At first I couldn’t believe that people were jumping from the buildings. I remember thinking why the hell would someone jump from a 110 story building. What terror were they experiencing to not even wait for rescue? What were the conditions like in the bulding that they would rather jump to a certain death?
It was heart wrenching.
Not long after, one of the buildings appeared to be getting swallowed up in a dust cloud. I said to my mum that it’s collapsing. She said that it couldn’t be. Within seconds it was confirmed on live TV. One of the buildings was collapsing, floor by floor and in no time at all the building had completely collapsed and all that was left was a dust cloud and a pile of rubble.
The images of people running and screaming from the collapsing building are permanently imprinted in my mind. I’ll never forget it. Their looks of anguish and horror and uncertainty. These people on the streets didn’t know what was happening. They weren’t watching the news like we were. Most wouldn’t have known that this was a terrorist attack. They were running for their lives, uncertain that their next step could be their last. They weren’t running from the buildings. They were running to their future.
During the first hour or so of watching this destruction I was on the phone talking to family and friends, sharing our fears about what was going on. Fearing for those still in the buildings and acknowledging those who had died. Talking about what must be going through the minds of the people on the planes as they smashed into the buildings and for those who saw the planes coming their way.
Then the second building collapsed in the same way the first had done earlier. New York was now a war zone. A huge pillar of smoke and dust and grit covered the iconic city.
People were covered in dust. They looked like they were from an alien planet. Some were injured. Most were simply scared.
Then news came through that a plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. At the time we didn’t know if it was connected or not but it had to be. As history tells us, the passengers on this plane fought back against its hijackers and paid the ultimate price but they saved thousands of lives in the process.
I eventually went to bed around 3am. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer but watching this historic event unfold was too important to miss. The replays of the planes smashing into the World Trade Centre had been permanently seared into my brain. Even nine years on, as I write this article, I can still see each image as though it was being replayed in front of me. It is something I will never forget.
I woke at 6am after a few hours of shut eye and went straight to the TV for the latest news. Hoping that there were no more hijackings. Luckily there wasn’t. I woke my wife and told her what had been happening. She was shocked and appalled at the news.
The next few weeks all anyone could talk about was the tragic events of 9/11. The images of George W Bush when he was first told while reading at a school. Mayor Rudi Gulliani fronting the press each day. The scene of the firefighters hoisting the American flag amongst the rubble. The pride of the Americans for their firefighters, when so many of them and many police officers died in the line of duty trying to save those in the buildings.
These are images I will never forget.
The thing to remember from this is that while almost 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks, thousands more have died since in the War on Terror, both those from the Coalition of the Willing lead by America, Britain and Australia but also those Iraqi’s and Afghan’s who have died as well.
Australia has lost 21 diggers in the war in Afghanistan including Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney who died last month. His funeral was held yesterday in Brisbane and on the same day, his wife gave birth to their son. A son, that Lance Corportal Jared MacKinney will never see.
The impact of the attacks on 9/11 will be felt for many generations to come. I will never forget and I would like to dedicate this post to not only the people who died on that day, but to all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice since then and for those who will unfortunately pay that price in the future. My heart goes out to your family and friends as well.
Do you remember where you were when you first found out? What did you do that day/night? What were your initial thoughts?