9/11: Ten Years On

It has been 10 years to the day that 2958 people died in the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington DC.

For the residents of New York City it started out like any other day: warm, sunny with not a cloud in the perfect blue sky. People went about their business like normal, as they had done the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that. At 8:46am things took a terrifying turn.

People swivelled their heads as they heard the roar of a plane flying far too low and far too fast over lower Manhattan. Without trying to change course or even slow down, American Airlines Flight 11 impacted the north tower of the World Trade Centre at over 460mph. The top quarter of the tower was engulfed in a huge fireball and vast amounts of jet black smoke.

Had this been an accident? Was this done on purpose? How could a pilot fail to miss the tower on such a clear day? Many questions were flying around, none of which could be accurately answered. No one could comprehend what had happened.

No one could comprehend what was about to happen.

At 9:03am the roar of a second jet speeding into the south tower dispelled any notion that the first impact was any sort of freak accident. United Airline Flight 175 hit a third of the way down the tower, showering the escaping people in flaming steel and rubble. The second tower became engulfed in flames and smoke. And then came the jumpers.

People were making the decision to take their life, and in so their death, into their own hands. The options were to stay in the tower and be overcome by smoke, or jump to your death. There was no third option. Around 200 people made the decision to throw themselves from the windows, taking over 10 seconds to fall over 1200 feet knowing that death would be painless and instant.

People ran as fast as they could away from the towers. The only people heading towards the towers were the New York fire department. They knew what had happened was on a scale that they’d never seen before. From the faces of the fleeing public and the brief horror stories they had heard from people that had escaped from the towers, they knew that they were facing an unimaginable task: first they had the epic task of climbing to the fire, not a small feat considering the weight of the equipment each fire-fighter was carrying. Once they had finally arrived on the correct floor they would have to begin the task of trying to put the raging fires out.

Word slowly filtered through about a third attack: not in New York this time, but in Washington DC. At 9:37am American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the seat of America’s military power: The Pentagon. The attack killed 184 people and blew away any shred of doubt that America was under attack.

In New York the towers were burning intensely. People could only stand and stare, transfixed by the most unlikely of sights. Then at 9:59am a rumble was heard through lower Manhattan as the proud structure of the World Trade Centre’s south tower began to crumble and collapse. 450,000 tonnes of metal and concrete smashed to the ground pulverising everyone in and around the south tower. Huge billows of black smoke and debris spread out over the whole of Manhattan leaving just the north tower standing. The scene was one of absolute devastation: a thick layer of grey ash covered everyone and everything transforming the streets of New York.

Meanwhile high over Pennsylvania United Airlines Flight 93 had been hijacked and was speeding towards Washington DC. Onboard passengers had heard about the other attacks and knew that they were probably heading towards the next target. The terrified passengers took the brave decision to storm the cockpit and take back the plane. There was a huge struggle to get to the flight deck, and in the ensuing struggle the plane crash landed in a field killing all 37 people onboard. It was only five minutes outside of Washington DC. Its intended target was the United States Capital building.

The final devastating blow came at 10:28am when a second rumble was heard. The north tower of the World Trade Centre cracked and began to fall. The tower was lost in the second massive plume of black smoke that spread over Manhattan. People making their way away from ground zero could only turn and look in devastated awe at the post apocalyptic scene that met their eyes.

By 10:30am, a mere 102 minutes after the first plane hit, the World Trade Centre towers were no more.

New York smouldered. Washington Smouldered. The day’s events were over.

In the following days and weeks President George W Bush and New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani visited ground zero to help and comfort those involved in the round-the-clock clean up. While New York was brought to its knees, the people were brought together and everyone helped in whatever way they could. They showed the terrorists their spirit could not be broken.

I remember getting back from school and sitting on my bed watching the replays on the news. I knew what had happened was bad, but I couldn’t help thinking ‘wow, this looks great, like a movie or something!’ As a 12 year old I didn’t really comprehend the devastating effect the attacks had on so many people.

The next day as I was walking to school I called into a shop and saw all the newspapers neatly lined up. Despite the various (short) headlines, nearly every paper had the same picture covering the front page: a close up of the second plane hitting the south tower as the north tower had smoke billowing from it. An iconic image of a historic event that united the world.

Only a few months after the attacks I was going on holiday to Florida. One thing I vividly remember was how tight security was at both sides of the Atlantic. The airport staff questioned everyone and checked everything. On our way home our case was scanned and the pulled us to one side because they had seen something in the bag and they became suspicious. They questioned my parents and opened the case. Police with huge automatic guns were keeping a close eye on us, and from our suitcase they pulled…a Mr Potato Head toy. My dad joked that even with their $1million scanner they couldn’t identify a kid’s toy. They didn’t see the funny side. And they were obviously taking no chances.

The shock was slow to be abated in the years after the attack. However for a significant few the initial shock was quickly replaced with suspicion. While I wouldn’t necessarily give credence to the thousands of conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11, I wouldn’t necessarily dismiss them either. Granted, many are farfetched and require a certain suspension of disbelief, however many are able to hold water and have many solid facts to back up the theory.

Whatever happened on that sunny September morning, the images of the two flaming towers will be etched into the minds of each and every person that witnessed the horrific events. But it is now time to move on. People have once again become strong. And from the gaping hole the World Trade Centre left rises the magnificent One World Trade Centre: a majestic and modern building that will stand as a shrine to the victims of the attacks.

America has grieved for a decade. Thousands of people died, a country suffered and the world changed.

We will never forget what happened on September 11, 2001.

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