September Eleventh - An Account
I was one of many eyewitnesses to the horrible acts of murder committed in New York City on 9/11. I wrote about it the next day. I received some nice emails in return regarding my story, and even a hand-made US Flag made by some students at a school in Rome, GA. Their flag is also on this page. It resided down at the Hoboken waterfront until a local artist named Raymond Smith took care of it, and it now resides at the Hoboken, NJ Historical Society's Museum.
The story of the flag is much more pleasant than the story of the attacks, but they are both important. I feel badly that this story has been off my website for as long as it has; I really believe it was just too painful to keep reading it. But on the fourth anniversary of the tragedy, I find myself living 2,000 miles away from New York, yet feeling closer to that city than ever. And with a war raging on, a war that has absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 yet fully half of this nation believing that it does, and now conspiracy freaks purporting that what I saw with my own eyes that day did not actually happen, I felt it was important to get this story back online.
Out of respect for the victims.
This page contains my eyewitness account of the 9/11 attack on New York City, some pictures I took of the southern tip of Manhattan - before, during, and after the day, and some info about the Rome, GA flag.
This is Really Happening
(Written September 12, 2001, R.P.G.)
This is the second time I have tried to write about what happened yesterday. I couldn't concentrate well enough to form complete sentences yesterday, but for the last 26 hours my mind has played over and over the horrific events that took place Tuesday, September 11, 2001. My sometime overactive imagination is unfortunately working quite well at the moment, and I am able to envision far too much of what was perhaps the final moments of so many innocent people. So here I sit once again, in therapy at my keyboard.
Living in Hoboken NJ, I am fortunate to have a truly spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. Being a private pilot, I also spend much of my time looking up at the many planes that pass through the area, in what is known as the Hudson River VFR corridor. All manner of private planes, large and small, regularly fly through the area directly over the Hudson River and below 1,100'. I myself have done it many times. I had just taken a co-worker "down the Hudson" two weeks ago, and we had both marveled at the view, and at the idea that we could freely embark on such a journey. Suffice to say, I spend a lot of time watching the planes fly by, and can clearly identify the various altitudes and speeds used by the traffic: smaller private planes down low, and the turboprop "puddle-jumpers" fly by a little faster at around 1500'. Never does one see a large passenger jet flying at these altitudes, along this track. Occasionally I see a plane flying lower, higher or faster than usual, and wonder if they are having some problem. This always turns out to be my overactive imagination.
Yesterday, walking to the train, I saw something in the corridor that looked wrong. Unfortunately this time it was not my imagination.
About 8:40AM, my wife dropped me off near the Hoboken PATH station. The brilliant blue sky was reflecting off the faces of the World trade Center buildings, and it gave me a lift as I walked toward the newsstand.
The World Trade Center (photo taken in the spring of 2001)
Weather like we had yesterday brings out the best in the NYC skyline. As I approached the newsstand, heading east and facing Manhattan, I saw an airplane, so I looked up. It's an instinctive thing; when I see movement in the sky, I look up at it. For years I have been doing just that, every morning, usually to see a sightseeing helicopter, private plane or commuter prop plane. This time I saw something much larger, much faster. This is where my own mental continuous tape loop begins:
A large jetliner is flying left to right. It appears black, silhouetted against the early morning sun. It's going too fast. It's too low. A plane like that doesn't belong in that area. The engines are howling. It must have a problem! The plane suddenly banks hard left and disappears from my view, obscured by the newsstand. I just know this isn't right. I begin to run, to get around the building blocking my view. It must be going to Newark, it must have a problem. I hope it can even make it that far, but then there's always the bay, the bay is right there. They could ditch in the water if they have to--
And then the sound.
A second later, I am clear of the newsstand. The World Trade Center is in full view, less than a mile southeast from the spot where I am standing, which is now vibrating. Or is it my chest? I feel something. There is a tangible feeling around me, ON me. There is a large oval hole in the north face of the north world trade center tower. The hole is on an angle, sloping up from left to right, mimicking the bank angle of the plane as I last saw it.
There is a hole in the building. A large hole. A hole in the building.
A huge fireball spews out of the north face. The sound is still rumbling. Flames and debris are now cascading down like a waterfall. Oh my god. Oh my god. A stranger asks what just happened. I hear the words "a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center" come out of my mouth. People are noticing the plume of smoke now; a crowd is gathering. Some people stop to look at the hole -- the black smoke is now pouring out like a liquid that defies gravity -- and then proceed down the stairs to the subway. That seems more surreal than the current view of south Manhattan. People are asking me if I'm sure. I'm sure. "I saw it". I did not see it, but then again I did see it, in my mind's eye. I'm already beginning to see it again, in instant replay.
That sudden bank left is bothering me. This isn't right.
I take pictures. So do others around me.
World Trade Center, about 9:00 AM on 9/11.
I call my wife, who must surely be able to see this now:
"Hello!" She answers.
"Yeah!" I know she knows.
"Are you seeing this?" She asks.
"I SAW it! A fucking jet just hit the World Trade Center! And it looked deliberate!"
"Oh my God. Oh my God! That's what they're saying, but they're not sure."
The radio is speculating about a bomb, a small plane crash - an accident, possibly. I'm telling my wife about the sudden bank left. It was trying to hit the building. It looked like a 737. Something much bigger than what is supposed to be at that altitude. I don't know, maybe a bigger plane. I don't know, maybe nine hundred feet. Coming right down the Hudson River. Oh my God. Be careful, drive safe, babe.
Strangers heard my phone call. What do I mean, it was deliberate? I explain there is water all around, lots of places to go and land or even crash, a million-to-one shot to hit those towers by mistake. Replaying the scene for the strangers. Using my right hand as an airplane, demonstrating the sudden last-minute bank. Reviewing the events. Looking at the hole.
There were desks behind that hole. I look at my watch; it's around nine-o'clock. Someone was taking the lid off his coffee cup when this happened. Sitting at a desk. Yes. People are dead. This is really happening. There is a hole in the building and there were people behind that wall. The plane went in right there. The airplane hit the crowded building right there. Yes. That's why there's a hole there now. This is really happening. There is smoke coming out, I see flames now. It seems small. No, that's an entire floor engulfed in flames. Two floors. From here it seems small. And yet I could feel it when it hit. I could feel it. And that sound. That horrible sound. This is really happening.
More discussion with more strangers. No it wasn't like a Cessna. A big jet. A passenger jet. I'm wondering how a person steals a jet. Suddenly, another plane appears. The whole sequence happens much more quickly:
There's another plane; boy, that one's flying fast; oh my god, that's another jet, it's too fast, it's too low. Words come out of my mouth: "Here comes another one; this one's too low too". People saying where? where? I see it, oh my god...
I'm pointing at it. I watch it. It appeared from the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty, passed right to left, and headed straight for the World Trade Center. A black silhouette, moving fast. Very fast. It disappeared behind the north tower. It did not appear from the other side. A second rumble. A second sound. Flames now appear from the other side. People around me let out a collective gasp. People are screaming. The man next to me grabs me. He looks at me. His look says "you were right". His look says "I'm frightened". He runs away.
I keep looking. I have had nightmares about plane crashes; they sounded like this. I call my wife to tell her of the second crash. I don't know why, surely she knows already. I'm glad she's driving away from the city. I'm going home. My cell phone no longer works. Everyone around me is calling someone. Everyone wants to tell someone. Tell them what they saw. What I saw. Let me try to call the office again. My hands are shaking.
What is going on here? People are dead now.
I pass a man on his cell phone. He's on his way to the train. He is getting the news. His face fluidly changes from an inquisitive, smiling mask to one displaying incredulous, bug-eyed, wrinkled-foreheaded fear. His gait quickened simultaneously. He doesn't know yet. He's been told, but he doesn't believe it. He will round the corner in a moment and he too will know.
Back home I can only get a couple of TV channels. My phones do not work. I sit staring at the TV. The BBC says the planes were hijacked. That makes sense now. That's scary. Other planes are unaccounted for. The Pentagon has been hit. One less plane unaccounted for. This is really happening. It's happening fast.
Suddenly, the turbine whine of a jet grows very loud. It sounds like what I just heard down at the train station, but it's over my apartment. I am frightened. Looking out my bedroom window, I see it is a military jet, an F-15, now banking sharply over Manhattan. It is pulling contrails from the wingtips, those condensation trails that happen when the conditions are right. Momentarily I get lost in the beauty of the plane against the sky, but then remember why it's there, why I'm at home on a Tuesday, and catch the smoke plume from South Manhattan out of the corner of my eye. Airplanes are beautiful; I love the sounds they make. But the only planes I have seen or heard recently are connected with tragedy. I fear I may never get to fly a plane down the Hudson River again, after this. I feel guilty for thinking of that right now.
The view from my bedroom window
One of my firm's clients is the Port Authority. We work with the architects. I was at a meeting there, in the north tower once. The eighty-something floor, I think. There is a hole there now. That's where I once stood. I admired the view they had. I can imagine seeing a plane coming right at me. People are dead. People I know. I hear their voices on the phone. I remember them. They might be dead. No, if they were at their desks, they are dead. This is really happening.
I sit watching the television. I'm able to log on to my internet service provider, and begin sending emails and instant messages to friends and family. I'm OK, I tell people. I watch the video replays of these planes plunging into the buildings on the TV screen. It feels like a dream again. The sound is not there, the feeling is not there. But I remember it an hour ago. It really happened. The south tower is now collapsing in front of me, on television. The massive hulking structure is instantaneously crumbling upon itself. This too is really happening. I feel helpless, transfixed on the television.
They want people to donate blood. For whom, I'm wondering. No one is getting out. Friends have friends missing. I can't talk to my office. Again I see the plane hit the building, on the replay. Who is the blood for?
I'm watching the images now. The towers depicted in the video clips are no longer standing. I am but a few years older than those towers; I can remember them on the skyline for most of my life, and now they are gone. I go to my window again, to look. There is a massive cloud of smoke where lower Manhattan is.
The view from my bedroom window, forever changed
I now have a mental catalogue of the video footage to date. As the image first comes up on the screen, I know exactly which amateur video it is, and from what vantage point I will now once again witness this painful destruction. I know to watch for the 767 from the left. This is the one from Brooklyn. This is the one from south of the tower. This is the one from ground zero. I watch.
How are people doing down there, I wonder? Looking north out my bedroom window, one can forget that any of this is going on. The Empire State Building is majestically standing sentry over all this carnage. The Empire State Building is once again the tallest building in New York City. This is really happening.
For the last 24 hours, I have paced my home, watching TV, logging on to the internet; sending email, sending instant messages, making phone calls. Family, friends and co-workers are all present and accounted for, but questions about clients and friends of friends remain.
I feel anger, fear, disgust, hopelessness, and hope all at the same time. I feel guilty for being so devastated by what I saw. My pain simply cannot come close to that which thousands of families are experiencing right now. But somehow, every time the home videos are replayed, I feel a deeper connection to what happened yesterday. It hurts, but every time I watch the events replayed, I gain a little more clarity to what happened when I was standing by the river yesterday. Details come into sharper focus, what I felt, what I saw, what I heard. I can fill in the details better each time. It only hurts more, but somehow, it helps. I feel more connected to this tragedy each time I see it. A little more of the horror of being there comes back to me each time. I don't know why I crave this.
I am trying to convey how disgusting it was to witness this horrifying act, how gruesome this is. Body counts & videos, pictures of the rubble and the twisted metal simply do not do this justice. The sheer amplitude of the destruction, the seeming instantaneous change in the course of history, and the unparalleled shock that it was all happening, here, to us, to America, right now before my eyes, was and remains indescribable, despite my attempts to do so here. And yet, I know it was and continues to be so much worse for so many people trapped, their families, and for those trying to help them.
This was an act of mass murder; a swift and decisive commitment of murder, violation and grave disrespect. I am but one person peripherally affected by this tragedy; there are millions of us. My heart goes out to the thousands that are more directly affected.
Yesterday was a sad day.
The former site of the World Trade Center, 9/14/01. A candlelight vigil is about to begin, as F-16s fly overhead.
A flag sent to me by a school Assistant Principal from Rome Georgia. Look closely; the stars and stripes are made up of handprints of the kids, faculty and parents.
Thank you Sara, and all the kids from Glenwood school!
I taped a note to the railing above the flag, so people would know where this flag came from. It reads:
This flag was sent to me by a school's Asst. Principal in Georgia. I have never met her in person, but she had read a story I wrote about the 9/11 events. I had emailed my story to friends, family and mailing lists; somehow a copy ended up in her inbox. The story touched her, as it had others. She sent this flag to me in hopes that I could put it somewhere, to show support. I think this is the best place for it; it's near where I saw this incredible tragedy unfold.
I want you all to see this flag. Look at the handprints of the innocent children moved to do this. It's signed, "with love".
Here's hoping that all the victims are resting in peace.
Here's hoping that the victims' families are recovering.
Here's hoping you are all healing.
This area, along with others along the Hoboken waterfront, became host to a shrine for the many victims of the 9/11 tragedy.