A few weeks prior to that, I had found a website with hundreds of old airline ads and every day, I'd look at about 150 or so ads a day,and I was saving the ones I really liked and was planning to post some of them later. I had just found this ad for TWA and thought "This is the best one, yet".
I was in the process of saving the file when the phone rang. I looked at caller ID. It was 8:38 am Central Time and the call was from my dad. His birthday had been the week before and I had spoken to him then, so I was wondering why he was calling me again, especially at a rather early hour. I just knew he was going to tell me that someone in our family had died or something, but, of course, that wasn't the case. He told me to turn on the TV and explained that the news was saying a commuter plane had hit the first tower and then another plane had hit the second tower. I thanked him for alerting me and switched on the TV.
It was ABC News with Peter Jennings. I could hear his voice in the background talking to someone (can't remember exactly what they were discussing) and there was a split screen. One the left hand side of the screen was live footage of the WTC. On the right side it was live footage from the Pentagon. Wait a minute! The PENTAGON!? Dad hadn't told me about that. (It was probably happening as I was on the phone with him.)
I immediately knew this was my generation's Pearl Harbor and put the only blank tape I had in the VCR.
15 minutes later, they're still showing the spilt screen, WTC on the left, Pentagon on the right. Peter Jennings was still talking in the background. I was mainly watching the WTC side of the TV screen. They had zoomed in on a corner of the building and I remember seeing these strange looking drips. It looked like little drips of fire or something. Kind of like a volcno that was dripping hot lava. I remember thinking "What is that stuff dripping from the corner of the building?"
All of a sudden the part of the building above where the drips were coming from just broke away and started leaning to one side, falling as the rest of the building just dissappeared in the smoke. I'm thinking My God! The Building just collapsed! Immediately, the side of the TV screen showing the Pentagon vanished and now the whole screen is just the building falling and the camera panning out. Smoke, dust, and debris falling, then rising again and spreading out across lower Manhattan.
Incredibly, Peter Jennings and whoever he was speaking with seemed to not have noticed and were still talking. Finally about 15 seconds later, Peter Jennings says (I'm paraphrasing here) "OK, Let me interrupt you for just a minute. We seem to have a secondary plume of smoke coming from one of the buildings. It appears that... uh.. I'm not sure ... uh ... what do we HAVE here?
He gets ahold of one of the correspondents on the street and the guy is saying "Peter, the second building hit has just collapsed." Peter Jenning still doesn't get it. He says,"OK a side of the building has just collapsed."
"No Peter, the entire building has just collapsed."
Peter Jennings voice is incredulous. "The ENTIRE building?"
"Yes, from my vantage point it appears that the entire building has collapsed. At the very least the top portion of the building is gone. It's very hard to see because of all the smoke, but it DOES appear the enitre building has collapsed."
Three seconds of total silence (except for the office sounds and the phones ringing in the background of the ABC Studios) and finally Peter Jennings just says softly, "My God."
Word starts coming in that the second building is in danger of collapse and they are moving the triage area.
Thirty minutes later the second building collapses and Peter Jennings starts talking about how the skyline of New York has changed forever.
With only 30 minutes left in my VCR tape, I threw on a pair of shoes, grabbed my wallet and rushed out the door to run across the street to Target so I could buy more blank VCR tapes.
It was errie. It was by then about 10:30 a.m. here in Austin, yet the streets seemed deserted. There were hardly any customers at Target and some of the cashiers in the checkout lanes had radios on. Everyone seemed to be stunned (myself included).
Those first two days I taped a lot of coverage, and after that, every time there was a special report on Dateline or CNN Presents, or PrimeTime Live that had anything to do with 9/11, I taped it. I guess that was my way of coping with the situation, and preserving what is was actually like that day for future generations.
I'm not talking about the cleaned up versions of the events of that day, with scenes in slow motion and music in the background. I'm talking about the raw footage of the day. The images. The sounds. The confusion. The speculation. The messages scrolling across the screen that the airports were shut down. The fear. The horror. The shock. The grief. The anger. The sadness. The outpouring of sympathy from around the world.
This is one of those events that, years later, people will remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.