Remembering 9/11: In their own words

2011-09-06 15:37

New York - It has been called a day that will live in infamy, the day that changed the world, an event that shattered America's innocence.

Images of the planes striking New York's Twin Towers, the flames, the building collapses, the ash-covered faces of those lucky enough to escape and those who rushed in to search for survivors are burned into the collective consciousness.

Ten years after the September 11 attacks, Agence France-Presse asked people across the United States to recall where they were when they first heard the news.

Personal experiences

Here are their responses:

Jules Naudet, a French filmmaker who was working on a documentary about New York firefighters and captured one of just two video images of the first plane striking the World Trade Centre.

"I'd gone out with the firefighters on a gas leak call and we heard the roar of an airplane very loud and very close.

"Reflexively, instinctively I turned the camera to see where the plane would reappear and it passed behind a building and immediately struck the North Tower.

"We rushed towards the tower... I saw a woman falling who was burning alive.

"And that's when the horrible sounds of people striking the ground after jumping out of the building began.

"I kept filming, it became a self-defence mechanism.

"Then I heard what sounded like a fast-moving train approaching and it was death, we knew that death was approaching. Everyone started to run."

'No injured persons'

Bob O'Brien, 68, a maintenance man who was working near the World Trade Centre.

"When the plane hit, 10 or 15 minutes later you saw people coming out of the windows. We went outside to look. They thought it was just clothing. I said, 'no, that's bodies'. It was people jumping."

Beth Faitelewicz, 50, an emergency room nurse at Beth Israel Medical Centre in New York.

"I walked to the hospital - got into emergency mode - and did the best I can do under emergency situations. The worst thing that happened is that we never got anyone."

Carla Shapiro, 55, a New York artist and photographer, was teaching a class in Brooklyn when the planes hit across the harbour.

"You could smell metal, you could taste the metal and smell smoke and you didn't know what was going on."

'People covered in white ash'

Molly Crabapple, an illustrator, was just two days shy of her 18th birthday and sitting in a cafe near the World Trade Centre when the planes struck.

"I was in a coffee shop. I heard a plane had crashed into the towers and I thought, 'oh it's some rich jackass'. But then I understood. I went outside and said 'I'm going to walk down there' and I saw people covered in white ash running away and a guy crying."

Vincent Kam, then a US Army lieutenant-colonel, was presiding over a morning meeting when Flight 77 struck the Pentagon in Washington.

"At about 09:30, I heard a loud explosion. The floors and the walls and the whole room shook. A lot of dust and smoke starting filling the room. Initially it was white smoke, like dust.

"I could see the fireball coming at me, towards the window. But miraculously the window held intact and did not shatter.

"As soon as I looked at the door, from the conference room, I could see the third floor had broken up. There were flames shooting up from the second floor. Black smoke, really heavy smoke, started filling up the entire office.

"I could see people yelling to start to evacuate. I knew I had to get out."

Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey was getting ready to tape two episodes at her Chicago studio.

"I was sitting in the make-up chair when my best friend Gayle called and said, 'Turn on the TV'. I witnessed the unimaginable and knew that life as we knew it would never be the same. The heartbreak was almost more than I could bear. I felt devastated, confused, deeply sad."


Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was getting ready for work in his suburban Detroit home.

"All I could think was 'oh my God, let it not be Muslims'.

"In the next few days I had all my tyres slashed in my car. I had one of my windows smashed. I got hate calls. A lot of us went through that.

"A number of women stopped wearing their headscarves out of fear that they'd be attacked. Some men shaved their beards. It was really traumatic."

Jill Pascoe was at home in Morristown, New Jersey some 50km outside New York.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing and was just sick because [my husband] Josh was on a plane that left at the exact same time as the planes that were hijacked from Newark.

"I went to my grandmother's house and waited for two hours to hear from Josh. Everything was such a confusion... the TVs kept going out, cellphones didn't work well and it was crazy.

"I still get chills and sick to my stomach to this day thinking Josh was on a plane that morning and how lucky we are."

Action movie star

Film star Arnold Schwarzenegger was just waking up in California when the first news reports came in.

"I was shocked and horrified as I watched the tragedy play out on my television. I couldn't begin to imagine the pain of the victims and their families, and at the same time, I was absolutely amazed at the courage of the first responders that we saw running into the buildings. So I called Mayor (Rudy) Giuliani, and I asked him if there was anything I could do.

"The mayor asked me to come pump those guys up when they were down because they saw me as this action hero I played in my movies, but as I ate meals in the firehouses and prayed with them, there was no question who the heroes were, and I ended up being the one who walked away inspired."

Melissa Woods, 28, was in study hall at her Shaker Heights, Ohio high school.

"I heard a gasp coming from the art room where they had the TV on. There was live images of reporters coming out of the white ash, disoriented. People walking out of the clouds of debris like zombies.

"I was hysterically crying and my heart was beating, I had never felt that kind of fear before."

US President George W Bush was visiting Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida when the attacks began. Here is how he described his initial reaction in his autobiography:

"My first reaction was outrage. Someone had dared attack America. They were going to pay. Then I looked at the faces of the children in front of me. I thought about the contrast between the brutality of the attackers and the innocence of those children. Millions like them would soon be counting on me to protect them. I was determined not to let them down."

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