I remember that day distinctly. I had just dropped my son off at his elementary school. He was in 3rd grade at the time and his mother was out of state visiting relatives. As I pulled away from the school, I heard an odd news flash on the morning news. I played that broadcast at the start of today’s program. Hal Jay, the host of the morning show on WBAP New/Talks 820 on the AM dial, announced that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. Details were sketchy. It was right before 8am, 9am on the East Coast, when this news came. At first, my assumption was that it must have been a small plane.
As I drove the relatively short distance to my office, WBAP had another announcement. A 2nd plane had hit the other tower of the World Trade Center. Honest to God, my very first thought at that moment was Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network. News was still quite sketchy as I parked my car at work and walked into the office.
The area where my cubicle resided was empty. At the time, the feeling I had was one of displacement. Where was everybody? I’m not usually the first to arrive in the office so it was unnerving to think that I was the only one around. When I walked to the far end of the building and entered the cafeteria, I learned where everyone was. The cafeteria was packed with other employees, quietly watching the unfolding events on the single widescreen TV. After buying coffee and surveying the room, I found my workmates and sat down at their table. Nobody was saying a word, transfixed as they were on the news. Although there were conversations going on, it was not the normal morning bluster.
I sat down to muted greetings. After watching for a little while, gasps and exclamations erupted throughout the cafeteria. We all watched in stunned disbelief as the South Tower began to collapse. There was no commentary that I remember, only exclamations like “Oh My God” and “Holy Jesus!” Our collective experience was one of sheer horror at what we were watching on TV.
In what seemed like a short amount of time, we were suddenly viewing another image of a collapsing Tower. I remember asking a co-worker “Is this a re-run?” “No”, she said, “that’s the NORTH Tower!” We sat in stunned silence with hands covering our mouths as the tower collapsed in a billowing cloud of dust. It was the most gut-wrenching sight I had ever witnessed.
After gathering their composure, people began leaving the cafeteria to return to their work-stations, undoubtedly to check email and voice messages. I knew that the day was going to be very unproductive and I was right. No one could focus on work. Everyone was either on the phone, huddled around radios, or scouring the Internet.
It was unbelievably difficult not to keep thinking about the images I had just seen and to imagine all the people who may have just lost their lives. A few co-workers and I left our work area after checking email and voicemail and returned to the cafeteria. We all needed to know what was going on, even though there wasn’t anything new to learn.
Here’s the timeline of that morning’s events (all times Eastern):
8:46am – American Airlines Flight 11 strikes the North Tower
9:03am – United Airlines Flight 175 strikes the South Tower
9:37am – American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon
9:59am – The South Tower collapses
10:06am – United Airlines Flight 93 crashes near Shanksville, PA
10:28am – The North Tower collapses
It’s very difficult to realize that from the time that first plane struck the North Tower and when it finally collapsed in the end, a mere 1 hour and 42 minutes had passed. It seemed like an eternity at the time.
The rest of the day is a blur to me, but my experiences are not what’s important. I only offer them as background for all our recollections while watching the tragic events of that day unfold. I also want to share with you some stories of those who were much closer to the events than you and I may have been, in remembrance of them.
Update: I inadvertantly referred to Flight 175 as an American Airlines’ flight. It was actually a United Airlines’s flight and I have corrected the reference above.