Eyewitness: 9/11/2001

On the morning of Tuesday September 11th 2001 I was home alone.  My wife and young son were in Boston for the long weekend and I decided to sleep in an extra 15 minutes or so before heading to work in lower Manhattan.  I passed on coffee and breakfast and planned on picking it up at the deli across the street from my office.

It was unseasonably warm that day and the city was slowly coming to life after most of us had a day off.  As I was getting my breakfast on the corner of Hudson and Spring Streets someone came in to say that the World Trade Center, easily visible from here, was ‘on fire.’  if you live in NYC you know that many buildings have furnaces and boilers or incinerators that occasionally bilge black smoke into the air causing tourists to scream ‘fire.’  I assume this was the case but stepped outside to have a look anyway.

What I saw was a small section of the North tower on fire.  My initial reaction was that something in that area had exploded…a copier…I don’t know what but that was my thought.  As I suggested this someone said no that a plane had hit it.  OK, small hole, small fire…again I assumed that someone learning to fly made a horrible mistake.  I believe I said, ‘that guy’s not going to get his pilot’s license.’

Details were still coming in as people on the street stared up at the growing blaze.  I went up to my office where people were watching the scene out the conference room window.  Word now was that it was an airliner and not a small plane and it had hit the other side of the tower so what I saw was the small area where the plane had come through.  I went online and started looking for news, I also called home to ask my Father what was going on.  He told me what they were saying on TV and asked what I could see.

I kept putting the phone down and running to the window.  The fire had spread now and I could see it coming from the sides of the North tower.  I got back on the phone and heard a rumble and felt our building shake.  As I was running back to the window a co-worker was coming from the other side of the office yelling, “I just saw another plane crash into the other tower, get out of here now!”  I told my Dad I was leaving, hung up the phone and ran down 8 flights of stairs to the lobby.

The street and sidewalks were full of people staring up at the sight less than a mile away and the sound of sirens filled the quiet morning air.  I have never heard so many sirens and horns in my life, and I grew up around the fire department.  I don’t remember anyone talking, just staring in disbelief.  A few ere trying to make cell phone calls but I don’t think anything was working.  I still had no idea what was happening but I knew this was no accident.

I suddenly realized that I was in NYC and I lived in NJ.  If I was going to get home I’d better go now.  People were still flooding into the city and I fought the oncoming traffic as I headed back to the Christopher St. PATH station.  I’m not sure these people had any idea what was going on or what they were about to see.  I hopped the turnstile and got on a train just as the doors closed.  It was relatively empty and those few passengers with me looked dazed…it was silent.  A voice broke the silence on the PA announcing that service to the WTC station was suspended due to ‘police activity,’ I almost laughed.

As I emerged from the station in Hoboken I saw dozens of ambulances and pieces of fire equipment.  It appeared they were setting up a small field hospital.  Like an idiot I went over and waited for my bus, I soon realized it wasn’t coming so I started walking.  I glanced over my shoulder as I walked and saw the top of the WTC towers engulfed in fire…or so I thought.  From Hoboken the towers overlap so I didn’t even realize I was only looking at one tower until a woman running past me said the tower fell.  Fell?  I pictured the tower falling like a tree and had to really wrap my head around what she was saying.

I stopped at an electric truck with a radio to listen to what the news was saying.  I heard talk of the Pentagon, White House, other planes, hijacking…all too much to comprehend.  Then two F-16’s roared overhead.  That’s when it really hit me that this was an attack.

I lived in Jersey City Heights at the time and had to walk up the cliff from Hoboken to get there.  About halfway up I heard a low rumbling noise and turned just in time to see the North tower crumble from the top down.  A guy with a TV camera was walking down the cliff towards me, I told him what I just saw and he ran to get a better vantage point.  I put my head down and kept walking.  I couldn’t look.

A small crowd had gathered at the top of the hill, but I kept walking to our apartment and went upstairs.  I walked into the kitchen and went to the window hoping I would see the towers standing right where they always had been.  I hoped everything I had just seen was a really bad dream.  All I saw was smoke.

I turned on the TV but got nothing.  We didn’t have cable and got our reception from the transmitter on the top of the WTC.  The only stations I could get were the Spanish-speaking ones that broadcast from nearby Secaucus.  I tried to call my wife in Boston, no luck.  I tried to get my Dad back on the phone, no luck.  I was however able to get online and let people know I was safe.

For the next week I was alone in that apartment watching the smoke drift South.  My wife and son were stuck in Boston with the travel restrictions.  I was left alone with my thoughts.  It was a rough few days.  Then the winds shifted and all that smoke blew right into our windows, filling the apartment with the acrid smell of burning steel and jet fuel.  I will never forget that smell for as long as I live.

Several weeks later I returned to my office.  Walking down Hudson St. and looking up at the empty sky where the WTC towers once stood was about as eerie as it gets.  My desk was covered with a thin layer of ash and to say the mood in the office was somber is an understatement.  It was then that I learned that an old employee of the company named Jeremy Glick was on Flight 93 in PA and was reported as the passenger who took charge and stormed the cockpit.

To this day I can’t watch the images on TV.  It makes my stomach turn.  I guess I’m glad they still show them because people need to see the images to remember.  I don’t need to because I saw it with my own eyes.

The view from my kitchen window in Jersey City, NJ


About J

I am a happily married Father of three living in Westchester County New York.
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2 Responses to Eyewitness: 9/11/2001

  1. raychel says:

    I’m sitting here crying my eyes out, you were the first person I thought of on that horrific day. I love you man.

  2. Jenna Brownson says:

    Thanks for sharing. Great essay.

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