I was 21 years old and had just returned home to Maine the previous evening from Germany, after spending the summer in Berlin. Coincidentally, I flew home through JFK
and remember seeing the towers off in the distance as I walked across the ramp to board an American Eagle flight. I would have never imagined that in less than 24 hours both towers were just a smoldering pile of rubble.
I was just waking up that morning. I always sleep with the T.V. on. So, as I was laying there in bed one of those breaking news alerts came on during one of the morning shows. One tower had just been hit and nobody really knew what was going on? At first, reports were suggesting that it was some kind of small general aviation aircraft? Then they started reporting it as being commercial 737 aircraft that had crashed. Just as I was starting to wake up and become alert, I was sitting there watching the live coverage with the newscasters kind of confused and shocked at what was happening. There were a lot of conflicting reports coming in as to what was going on? Just then, the second aircraft streaked across the television screen and collided with the building on live TV
! I couldn't believe what I just saw! Within minutes all the newscasters were suddenly reporting that it was now likely with no question, a terrorist attack and not an accident! I spent the next 12+ watching the news coverage. Endless replays of the collision and implosion. Witnesses on the street being interviewed. People just wandering around in a state of shock covered in dust and ash, etc.
Three days later, a couple friends and myself decided to make a 24 hour trip to NYC to see things first hand. We drove down there over night, checked out the scene and came back the next evening. I remember that as we approached the city, you could see white smoke billowing from ground zero. Like from 10-15 miles out! We parked somewhere in Mid-Town near a Salvation Army headquarters that the Red Cross had set up at to feed/shower and support the emergency response workers or anybody else in need of assistance
It was 4 a.m. when we arrived in NYC, and it was eerily quiet. The most chilling memory I have is walking down sidewalks or being at the Salvation Army outpost and seeing the walls completely covered with "Missing Person" print- outs that thousands of different families and friends has taped up. They all had a photo and a description of the last known location of the missing subjects. Most of the descriptions noted the missing person worked in one of the two towers or in the vicinity, and they hadn't been seen or heard since. Also, I remembered the air smelled of a combination of buring plastic/garbage/electrical smell. When you got down into lower Manhattan, the ground, cars, and everything was covered in about 1-2 inches of fine gray ash and dust. There were half burnt office papers by the thousands just littering the street and blowing around in the wind. The National Guard and police were armed with automatic weapons and had the streets blocked off leading to where the towers had stood. You would only get a glimpse from about 4-5 blocks down the street, but if you stood and looked for more than a few seconds the military or police would come along and tell you to keep moving. Being foolish college age kids we would tell them we were with the press or freelance photographers, and sometimes they'd let us snap a few photos.
It was a powerful and moving experience. Kind of chilling in a way.
Not long after 9/11. -Like, maybe even that night?- things got even closer to home when information started to come out that two of the hijackers had spent their last night in my town, at the Comfort Inn next to the PWM
airport. The FBI found the hijackers rental car abandoned at the PWM
parking garage with a copy of the Koran and some 767 flight manuals the evening of the attacks, or sometime the next morning.... I forget which day? Later, surveillance video was released to the media of Mohammed Atta and the other hijacker visiting the local Wal-Mart and Pizza Hut the evening before the attack. The next morning, the two caught a US Airways Express Beech 1900 to BOS
where they ultimately connected to the doomed flights. The US Check in agent that checked them in that morning years later gave a news interview and stated that when Atta came to the desk to check in, it was like he was staring right threw you. No emotion, evil eyes. He said the hair physically stood up on his neck. When Atta was identified and a photo was released in the days after the attack, the U.S. Airways agent from PWM
had an anxiety attack, and ultimately resigned from his job from the stress of feelings of guilt that he didn't do something to prevent the attacks. In hindsight, he said he should have trusted his gut feeling that something just wasn't right about the two men standing before him. There's actually a You Tube video of the interview that pretty interesting.
Airline Ticket Agent Recalls Atta on 9/11
Monday, March 07, 2005
[Edited 2011-08-28 22:17:01]