On Sept 11th 2001 I was on holiday in New York City. I flew over from Belgium where I was living at the time and I was very excited to be there. For me, New York was/is the ultimate travel destination and as soon as I had the opportunity to go, I jumped at it.
Everything had been going smoothly. I had the best hosts you could ask for (Thanks as ever to Gregory Clarke, Eileen Clarke-Callahan, Theresa Clarke, Jimmy Clarke and Frankie Clarke) and my tourist plan for that week was roughly:
Monday, Sept 10th – Empire State Building, Wall St
Tuesday, Sept 11th – Drive to Boston
Wednesday, Sept 12th – Return from Boston
Thursday, Sept 13th – World Trade Centre
Friday, Sept 14th – Statue of Liberty / Ellis Island
For me, visiting the World Trade Centre and in particular the “Windows on the World” viewing area and restaurant at the very top was probably the activity I was most looking forward to.
I put it (Visiting the World Trade Centre) towards the end of my week in Manhattan as I wanted to build up towards it.
I had just bought myself my first Digital Camera at the famous B&H Photo store on 9th Avenue and I was beside myself with excitement at having such a cool new device as a DIGITAL camera. (It looks like a museum piece today.)
I spent most of the Monday, Sept 10th, walking through the city for the first time. I visited the Empire State building and walked down towards Wall St.
While walking down towards Wall St, I spent most of my time looking up. What amazed me was how big the buildings looked that don’t look big in the Skyline Photos of New York. For me, they were still absolutely enormous and I said to myself, if this is how big the “Small Buildings” are, I’m really looking forward to seeing the biggest of them all, The World Trade Centre structures.
It was by accident that I saw them. I was at the junction of Wall St & Broadway with Trinity Church straight in front of me, and as I looked up to my right I saw these two absolutely enormous bright sliver buildings literally going up into the clouds. I had never seen anything like it before and all I could think of was how much I was looking forward to going there in two days time, Thursday Sept 13th.
I had my camera on me and I vividly remember saying to myself at that exact moment that I should take a picture but not to spend too much time on it as I would be “BACK ON THURSDAY AND I COULD TAKE LOADS MORE THEN”.
So I pulled out the camera and I remember that I could not get any decent angle because the towers were so huge from where I was. I remember literally getting down on my back on the ground at Wall St & Broadway so that I could take a photo. It’s this photo that is shown here.
I remember walking off consumed with admiration for the sheer scale of the size of these structures, full of excitment at visiting them in a couple of days.
The next morning, while preparing to drive up to Boston, I called my friend to double check some driving routes. I had all the radios and TV’s turned off in the apartment at the time, and little did I know that I was calling him about 5 minutes after the first plane struck. He wasn’t at his desk (He worked beside the Twin Towers) but his colleague answered and told me they couldn’t talk and to turn on the TV. I walked over to the TV, turned on CNN and from that moment, everything changed. When the second plane hit, I wanted it live on TV like everyone else. I remember thinking that “The World has Changed forever today”. I immediately called home and got through to my brother which was a relief as I knew then my family would know I was ok. Shortly after it was almost impossible to make phone calls internationally.
I watched with horror as both towers came down in front my eyes on TV. The family and friends of my friend where calling to see where he was and I didn’t know and could not tell them anything positive about his whereabouts. Fortunately he called me to let me know he was ok and on the long walk home.
I climbed up the fire escape on his apartment building to see if I could see anything but I was too far away. I will never forget the roar of two fighter jets passing overhead on their way to Manhattan.
My friend had asked me to go to the store and get some supplies as we literally didn’t know what was going to happen next. We laughed about it later, but I went to the store and bought enough food to last us about three months! I remember how quiet the store was. It was only 5-6 hours after the towers came down and people were just not able to process it or talk about it. And the car that I hired to drive to Boston ended up doing one shopping trip to the local store and no more.
In the end I was thankful I made the call to my friends office as otherwise I would have probably ended up stuck on the highway with no way of contacting anybody and nobody would have known where I was for a considerable amount of time.
The days afterwards were surreal to say the least. I still had five days of my holiday left. All the airports closed temporarily and what seemed to happen was that they picked a date for them to re-open, and if your flight was after that date, you departed as scheduled. Everyone else who had flights cancelled had to put up with the inconvenience.