As someone who writes daily political commentary, I’m usually required to write as an observer within a “third person” narrative, and rarely within a “first-person” venue. In fact, it’s taboo within the world of journalism and usually prohibited within many newsrooms in America. However, I’ve been given a dispensation regarding my recollection of that horrific day.
Moreover, I would imagine that almost all of us remember exactly where we were the moment we heard the devastating news that a plane had struck the North Tower at the World Trade Center Complex, in lower Manhattan.
I began my day as usual commuting into the Big Apple and arriving at my office around 8:15 am. It was a beautiful clear sunlit day, without a cloud in the sky, one of those rare mornings where you can see for miles, from the vantage point of a high-rise building, unobstructed by smog or haze.
Sitting at my desk, I began the usual task of preparing for the day. I was in the creative recruiting business, going through my database with my assistant Ashia, looking for candidates for a new Web Designing position that had just come in, the night before. When suddenly our receptionist came into my office breathlessly announcing that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center, I instinctively looked at my watch, it was just a little after 8:46am, thinking as I rose from my desk, “how someone could hit a structure almost 1,400 feet tall, on a pristine day, like today.”
Our building was located just a little over 2 ½ -miles from the World Trade Center at 37th Street and 5TH and we had a panoramic view of the Towers from our Conference Room, where we had all gathered.
My first recollection entering the room and seeing the Towers was the amount of blackish gray smoke billowing from a huge gaping tear, as fiery debris cascaded down to the street below. I knew within an instant that this was no small plane and that many people had instantly died in the raging inferno.
We settled around our massive conference table, looking out the large bay-window designed especially to highlight New York’s magnificent sweeping skyline.
Someone turned on the TV, and within moments we began hearing what most of us already felt, this may not have been an accident, and that many lives were instantly lost. The speculation within the room was this might have been a deliberate act, and because of the amount of damage caused, the aircraft may have been a commercial airliner.
The phone suddenly rang, it was my receptionist informing me that my scheduled phone call with my client (who I had promised to call), was on the line, no doubt annoyed. I picked up the phone and apologized for not calling. He apparently did not know what was taking place in lower Manhattan, and then asked if he could stay on the line?
I hesitated because my son was also in the city, working only a few blocks away, and I wanted to keep all the lines open, however against my better instinct I agreed.
I settled into a comfortable chair looking out our large bay window, speaking with my client, attempting to describe the scene unfolding before me, from my unique vantage point. I recall several small crafts, perhaps news and rescue helicopters a few miles away from the smoldering Twin Towers, and I recall the eerie feeling of watching the exact same image on TV, as I had been watching from my Conference Room, only a few miles away from the Towers.
The black smoke continued bleaching the brilliant blue sky, as flames became more and more visible, piercing through the gaping tear, as fiery streams of debris continued raining down the street below.
I noticed in the distance another aircraft moving much faster far off the horizon and I surmised it couldn’t be a helicopter, perhaps some type of military or emergency aircraft. I recall telling my client that the aircraft had passed behind the Towers in the distance, and then it slowly banked-around making a long slow U-Turn directly in line with the South Tower; I suddenly became alarmed as the plane rapidly dipped flying dangerously low and gaining speed.
I instantly recognized the aircraft as a winged commercial airliner, and I recall exclaiming into the receiver “oh no” at the moment of impact, as the aircraft disappeared into a ball of flames into South Tower, a fraction of a second later a huge orange fireball erupted exploding, cutting through and out the opposite side of the building, spewing debris within its wake as cascading droplets of fire began raining down on the street below. I recall hearing a collective gasp within the room and then an eerie silence; it was as if the world had stopped momentarily and the carnage that we just witnessed had yet to be processed within our brains.
We had witnessed perhaps the most violent act that we’ll hopefully ever see in our lifetime. A giant passenger plane crashing into a building and yet there was no sound, no rattling of windows…nothing but an eerie silence within the soundproofed conference room…and to this day the disconnect I felt in witnessing the visual violence of an explosion and the expectation of sound that never came…still troubles me today.
The rest of that day and the days to follow were filled with one emotional extreme after another, I was trapped within the city unable to leave, with no communications and unable to contact loved-ones And while the rest of the world knew exactly what was going on, we were cut off from the outside world, ironically from a catastrophic event only a few miles away, fearing the worst, however hoping for the best.
I walked along 8th Avenue heading for Union Square in lower Manhattan. My lifelong friend and noted photographer Hugh Bell had a studio there, and I knew I could crash there for the night.
As I walked south towards, what would later be referenced as “GROUND ZERO” I began to witness for the first time, what can best be described as a retreating army of both uniformed and civilian causalities, some covered with grayish ash, bewildered and aimlessly walking north, and as this converging mass of humanity mingled, it reminded me for a moment of a B-horror movie.
Moreover, I will never forget as I passed these causalities looking into their faces and seeing for the first time their personal devastation and what they had experienced…and selfishly thinking to myself, by the grace of God, it could have been me.
Unable to sleep we journeyed in the wee hours of September 12th towards the blue illumination of spot-lights, and the mound of rubble that was once The World Trade Center.