I was in New York City on September 11, 2001 and like so many people around the world, I will never forget where I was, what I was doing and most importantly, how I felt during that unimaginable time.
I wrote about my experience in detail. Keep in mind, back then, I was dating a Chicago-based United flight attendant and I was commuting between New York and L.A.
In addition to my story below, I’ve also included some reader emails about their experiences back then. If you would like to share your story, especially if you were traveling or in the city, please leave a comment below.
SEPT 12, 2001: Thank you everyone for your emails and messages. Amber and I are okay. It was a horrific day as you all know. I was in New York City at my apartment about 70 blocks from the World Trade Center (WTC). I was getting ready to go to the office, which is only around 10 blocks from the terrorists acts.
Before I left for work, I wanted to buy a last-minute plane ticket to Hawaii to attend a friend’s wedding. United’s web page was taking a while searching for fares, so I opened up USA TODAY in a different browser.
There I saw the breaking news that a plane hit the WTC. I opened the blinds and looked out my window and saw all the smoke. I turned on the TV and witnessed the second plane hitting tower two. I had know idea it was a commercial airliner, in fact, I thought it was terrorists in a small jet.
My cell phone went dead (for most of the day), the land line worked for about 10 minutes (I was able to call some loved ones to let them know I was okay). I tried calling Amber who I knew was in a taxi on her way to O’Hare but couldn’t get a through because her cell phone was down.
Eventually I found out she was okay, but very disturbed. Fortunately I have a cable modem and was able to email friends/family. It was madness downtown, but up where I lived was rather calm. The only thing different was a line for the pay phone (which is now free) and there was no mass transportation.
I tried to escape to Connecticut but couldn’t because all the bridges, tunnels and trains were closed. I was trapped so I ran to a Korean Market (every corner has one :-) to buy some food and water. I thought it would’ve been crazier, but New Yorkers really impressed me with their calmness.
I mean I didn’t see anyone freaking out, they were just walking down the streets continuing with their everyday lives. I was so surprised because I was in L.A. for the riots and it was nuts. I was out in Palos Verdes which is a really safe area and about 15 miles from the fires. There people flipped (including me). The grocery store line was literally around the corner, the shelves were empty, gas stations were jammed, and ATM machines were out of money.
I eventually made it out of NYC and got on a subway to Grand Central (All Taxi’s and Buses were filled to the rim). The subway was packed, and so was the train to CT. Metro North did a great job adding cars and not charging people. Passengers were quiet, but friendly. I saw one man share his cell phone with other people so they could tell their families where to pick them up. When I got off the train I never saw so many hugs, kisses, and I Love U’s.
Unfortunately, my family knew a lot of people who worked in the WTC. All we can do is wait and pray.
SEPTEMBER, 2021: I haven’t read the above story in years. I now have tears in my eyes as it brought back so many memories, including seeing the hundreds of photos on walls around the city and at Grand Central Terminal of all those missing. It also brought back memories of the funeral for one my high school friends, Cesar Murillo , who was on the 104th floor of Tower Two. He’d taken a job at Canter Fitzgerald just three weeks before.
I think of Cesar often, especially when I go to my local car wash and Miami International Airport because both places hang an American flag with the names of all those who were lost that day. Unless I’m running late for a flight, I always try and find Cesar’s name out of the 2,996 lost souls.
The following two months or so really brought the best out of America. I’d never seen everyone come together like that before. American flags hung from almost every home, apartment or storefront. At least, in New York and Connecticut.
One of the highlights was seeing President George Bush throw out the first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series. The first two games were played in Arizona, so this was the first game in the Bronx and the air was buzzing. Watch the video below to see what I mean. You can tell there that for those two months, we weren’t Republicans or Democrats. We were just Americans.
To honor and remember those we lost on that surreal September day, I asked my readers to send in their personal stories. It is amazing to read the stories from Americans, from those who were close to the tragedy like in the elevator of Tower One World Trade Center when the first plane hit, to readers in far-off lands such as China, Israel, Italy and Peru. Thank YOU to everyone who contributed.
AN EMAIL I RECEIVED AT 4pm ON (9/11/01) FROM A FRIEND OF MINE WHO WAS IN ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER
I just got back to my apartment in Astoria. it’s about 4:00. i was in an elevator at one world trade center at 8:45 this morning when the plane hit. i was on my way to a press conference i was supposed to be writing an article for at windows of the world, which is on the top floor of the world trade center, a conference which i was running late for [i was supposed to be covering a speech that began at 8:40; i fell asleep on the subway, a first, and missed my stop and had to double back from the whitehall station]. i got in the elevator around 8:42, 8:43 or so. the elevator nearly jumped out of the shaft when the plane hit the building. i thought a bomb had gone off. then concrete started raining down in slabs. the place filled up with smoke. and there were shoes everywhere. dozens and dozens of shoes that must have been knocked off the early casualties. it was hard to see and people were absolutely stunned. i couldn’t get back through the security turnstiles so looked for another way out of the building but when i looked back at the turnstiles they had been destroyed somehow, maybe by the falling concrete, so i ran through them and made my way out of the building. outside there was shit falling everywhere. including people. and dozens of shoes. as i ran from the building i looked up and saw the second plane hit. then i kept running. i just ran until my lungs ached. i didn’t stop until i got to lexington and 23rd. i called my girlfriend and mom and called my office. they were elated to hear from me. none of the others from my office that were covering the conference had called at that point. none have called yet and its been 7 hours, almost eight. it was unbelievable and i am so lucky to be alive.
i’m in shock. don’t know what to be thinking or feeling. hasn’t hit me yet. but i’m so glad to be alive. i think the majority of the magazine staff were up there. its such a waste
My husband, Harry and I were on a cruise on 9/11. We were on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas. We had docked at St Thomas, USVI. We decided to walk into town–which we usually do. It’s two miles into town and when we got there we saw people crying as they listened to their radios. We could hear the sounds of sirens on the radios. All the shop keepers were so sympathetic to us—and we still did not know what was going on. We started looking for an internet cafe and were told there was one at Little Switzerland Jewelers. We made our way there and went upstairs where we not only found free internet but also two large screen TV’s. We were mesmerized! We could not believe what we were seeing. I sent emails home to our family back in MO to find out what it was all about and to let them know we were safe. We stayed there and watched TV for several hours, at the same time getting and replying to messages from home. All the shops were practically empty, no one was interested in buying anything. The compassion and grief for our country over what had happened really touched our hearts.
When we got back to the ship, security was very tight. They had dogs there to sniff whatever you were bringing on board. Then when everyone was back on board before leaving St Thomas, the Captain announced there would be an entire ship search. He also said anyone who had relatives in New York could call from the ship for free. And the internet was also free to send emails home. This service was provided for the rest of the trip. That evening after dinner the scheduled show was canceled and the Captain called for a special prayer service. There was approximately 800 people who attended. Everyone was very somber. And it stayed that way for the rest of the trip.
The next day we were in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Security there was very tight. Vehicles were not allowed to drive into the port area. Around town there were armed police dressed in bullet proof vests on every street corner. When all passengers were back on board the Captain came on the intercom saying,”I am ready to set sail, but I am not going yet, I am asking for everyone to pause for a moment of silent prayer”. As we neared Miami for our return home, we feared for the chances of getting a flight out to St. Louis. We heard the day before only one flight had been allowed out. Arriving there on Saturday morning we were some of the first ones off. Airport security was VERY tight. But the airport was almost deserted. We were put on stand-by for a flight at 11:30. Got on the flight, although it was delayed 45 minutes because of security being backed up. This was probably one of our most memorable cruises—-however, not the most pleasant memories. It was not a good experience being so far away from home and family at such a traumatic time. This was one cruise that we were glad when it was over. ~ Harry & Louise Yeakey, MO 63366
It was approxiamtely 9:30pm in Shanghai China. I joined my husband on a furniture buying trip. We were traveling with his business partner and his wife, and 3 other gentlemen from Florida who were doing their own furniture research. We all had a lovely dinner together, and decided to go to the lobby bar at our hotel, the Shanghai Hilton, for a nightcap. The men stayed in the bar, and I decided to go up to my room to get ready for bed. As I sat down on the bed with a furniture brochure, I turned on the television, just for news. There was not alot of entertainment on Chinese TV. Mostly, it consisted of news in various languages. I glanced up at the tv and noticed a “LIVE” message in the left hand corner of the picture. Just as I noticed it, I saw the plane hit the building. Initially the building did not look familiar to me, and I thought, “what kind of bad movie is this??” I really did not pay too much attention, because I did not believe i t was for real. And then I saw the second plane hit another building. It caught my attention, but I still was not sure where this was happening. Just then,my husband walked into the room. He said, “Are you watching what is going on?” I said I saw it but I didn’t think it was for real. We sat together and began to watch with terror as information began to filter into our thoughts. It was New York! Oh my God! My cousin lives in Manhattan and works somewhere in a tall building. My daughter’s college roommate works for Bloomberg. Is she in that building?? Our hotel room turned icy cold, and I could not stop shaking. They were reporting that the Pentagon had just been hit and another plane may be hijacked. Where were my children? Was my 7 year old granddaughter watching this horror? How I yearned to put my arms around them right then. My brother…..he was to fly to Germany today with his partner. We just had dinner with his partner 2 days earlier in Shanghai. I know he was flying back to the states…..where was he meeting my brother?? I was shaking so badly I could not talk, I ached all over. I was crying uncontrollably. I MUST CALL THE U.S and talk to my family. First I called my aunt to see if she heard from my cousin. Yes, she said, he was safe. I called my brother, and he answered the phone…I felt so relieved when he said he had cancelled his trip. Of course, they had not yet grounded all aircraft. Then I called my daughter in Arizona, and my son in California. They were stunned and worried. We will try to get back home as soon as possible, but my daughter said if anyone on the flight looks suspicious, just get off the plane. I assured her we would be fine. We called my in-laws to let them know we were alright and would keep them informed. I felt somewhat relieved after talking to everyone but like everyone else, did not know of what was yet to come. For the next few hours, we watched the horror on the screen in disbelief. We felt so isolated, and guilty for not being in the US when this was happening to our country. We didn’t know if we were getting all the news. We tried to go to sleep at about 1am, which was 1pm New York time. We dozed for a few hours and at 4am, we both lay in the bed wondering what was happening back home. We turned on the tv and watched! That was all we could do. And prayed…
The next morning we were to meet our buying agent at 8:30am. We got ready, and met her in the lobby. She expressed her condolences to us, and we proceeded to go to our business appointments. After 2 hours, we decided we could no longer keep our thoughts on business and asked her to return us to our hotel. The Hilton in Shanghai had televisons all over the lobby and restaurants for all of their guests to bond together in this tramatic moment. There were many American tour groups coming and going, and for their convenience and the convenience of the independent travelers, blackboards were posted in the lobby with pertinent flight information on it. The managers of the hotel made themselves readily available to all of the stranded guests for anything we might need, and told us we could stay as long as necessary. Throughout the day, the hotel delivered to our rooms no less than 5 english newspapers for us to read. We read every article, looked at every picture, and I brought every one of those newspapers home with me!
For the next few days, we pretty much stayed in the hotel most of the time. We couldn’t leave the television sets, and really did not feel comfortable walking around Shanghai at this time. The Chinese people were absolutely wonderful during this time, but the hotel was our comfort zone right now. I checked my e-mail every few hours, and of course updated our friends and family often. Like everyone else, we had no idea when we would get home. We were to fly home Saturday September 15th from Shanghai, thru Seoul and Los Angeles. On Friday we went to the Asiana city ticket office to get an idea on how we might get home and when. We were told they had not received clearance to fly yet, but would call us Saturday morning with an update. At this time though, with 4 days worth of passengers built up, they estimated we would get into Los Angeles maybe Wednesday, and possibly we could re-route to Seattle on Monday. Right now, we had to wait it out.
Saturday morning we got called at 8:30 am to be told they still had no clearance to leave. During the conversation though, work came that they would fly later in the day. I thanked them and gathered my friends as we decided to chance our return.
We arrived at Shanghai airport at 1pm. The ticket counters were masses of Chinese going about their business as usual. There was no line, just people. We finally got to the counter, gave them our tickets, and they checked our bags to Los Angeles. They didn’t search our bags or ask us any questions. No security…..a bit scary. We boarded our flight to Seoul, and realized we had no boarding passes to the US. We would have to hope that the ticket counters in Seoul were not masses of people. Fortunately, they were not. We received our boarding passes and felt so relieved. We were going home! I ran up to the business class lounge to send one last e-mail….WE ARE COMING HOME TODAY! We boarded the half empty flight and felt so fortunate…..
September 15th, 3:30pm we landed in Los Angeles. Security was very different from that of 6 months earlier, when we also returned from China. I believe our passports were checked no less than 5 times before we even left the Bradley International Terminal. We could not check our bags in for our connecting flight to Phoenix. We would have to take them to Terminal 1, America West. Everywhere we looked there were armed police officers with rifles, police dogs and police cars. There was no traffice driving thru LAX…how strange. The masses of people were not there. Only the few passengers who were lucky enough to get on the few flights that day. We walked our luggage carts all thru the passage to terminal 1, and proceeded to check into America West. The counter person told us that check-in was serious business and not to say anything that wasn’t asked. We complied, and proceeded to go to the gates. Once again, we had to go thru security 2 more times, and finally we could go to the gate. At that time I bought my first American newspaper…USA Today. I read it cover to cover. How eery…this terminal is usually packed with people. Today it is deserted! Our flight was uneventful. We landed in Phoenix to find the airport also deserted, but happy to be home.
For the next few days, I tried to catch up on what we missed. I don’t think that will ever happen. Each special show on television shows us events we had not yet seen. And I cry all over again!! My daughter told me how strange it was to not hear airplanes in the sky. I wanted to know what my granddaughter felt. To this day, I still feel badly that I was not at home for this national tragedy. Joan ~ Arizona
The three of us were in Pienza, Italy (Tuscany) around lunch time when a thunderclap exploded and a quick storm came up. we had to run to our rental car and wait a few minutes for it to pass. shortly thereafter, we arrived in montepulciano and started to walk around this beautiful hill town. while i was out in the street watching the world go by, my girlfriend was inside a store buying postcards. unbelievable, but the
young merchant had a small t.v. on with english speaking moderators. i was called in from outside, when the second plane hit….live! stunned, we drove home to siena without saying much. turning on the t.v. in our villa, all we could do was watch and cry. living so close to new york, it was impossible to get through to our loved ones for a day or two. our remaining trip was spent walking around siena like zombies, not wanting
to be there, wishing to be back home in new jersey. we drove south to rome and somehow got on our scheduled flight from frankfurt to newark exactly one week after the event. we were scared to death to get on the plane, but german security was incredible and the flight went off without a hitch. flying down the hudson valley, we approached Newark from the north, with Manhattan on our left. on our final approach
everybody (flight attendants, too) rushed to that side of the plane to see the devastation. people were crying and obviously very somber. Coop ~ NJ
Last Sept. 11, I was flying back from Maine (where I’d gone after the Philadelphia-hosted World Science Fiction Convention on Labor Day weekend) to Seattle. I was scheduled to change planes in Philadelphia. I had an hour between planes, so I wandered around the terminal. I noticed a big crowd gathered around one of those closet-sized airport bars. I weaseled in among the watchers and saw a puff of smoke coming out of one of the World Trade Center towers. “A plane hit it,” somebody told me. A private plane, I knew. No jet would go barrelling into a skyscraper in a clear sky.
I don’t like to fly. But now I relaxed a little. “After all,” I told myself, “what are the odds of two plane crashes in the same day?”
Then the second jet hit the other tower.
That’s when it finally occurred to me I didn’t know what kind of plane hit the first tower, and maybe I ought to call my husband, my parents, and other people who knew I’d been flying past Manhattan when the first plane hit. So I turned on my cellphone and found out I had one minute of airtime left. I was at the very end of the terminal, though, so there were a couple of payphones available. Then I remembered I’d thrown away my used-up phone calling card the day before because “I don’t need this any more!”
I did eventually find a calling-card machine that wasn’t empty and inform family and friends that I was OK.
Meanwhile, they were closing the airport.
I spent 3 days in Philly, and caught nearly the first plane out of there to Seattle. Now, I’m about 3 hours from leaving for San Jose (CA) and this year’s World SF Convention.
I was in Haifa Israel the week of September 11th. It was an incredibly unbelievable experience to be in an area of the world that is consumed by violence and lives with terrorists attacks as a daily occurrence. I arrived in my hotel room at 5:00pm Israel time which would have been 9:00am US time and when I turned on CNN I could not believe what I was seeing, initially I thought that I was watching some kind of weird movie because they were showing one of the Twin Towers smoking and burning. I actually had the experience of watching the second jet hit the trade towers in near real time as they were reporting the news. IT was amazing that when I called home via my cellphone the lack of information that people in my office and at home were actually getting compared to what I was seeing. I immediately logged onto my corporate e-mail server as my cellphone had become virtually useless since everyone was using them at ! ! this point. Thank god for e-mail it was the only way to stay in touch with family and friends at home. I finally logged off e-mail about 3:00am Israel and tried to get a couple hours of sleep. I got a call shortly thereafter from a coworker who had gotten a call from his boss telling us to get ourselves out of Israel. It was amazing to walk into the office Wednesday morning luggage in tow to see the reaction of the Israeli’s that we were actually trying to leave early. We were scheduled to depart Israel on Thursday 9/13, and tried to find flights to anywhere earlier than that to get us home which of course were not available. We finally got a flight from Tel Aviv to London on Saturday morning but could not get a flight back to the US until Monday morning. The reaction in Israel as well as London was incredible when they learned that we were Americans. The outpouring of thoughts and sympathy was phenomenal. We actually had a! ! n opportunity to attend a memorial service at Westminster Abbey that was unforgettable.
All in all this was a very unreal situation being out of the US when such a tragic thing occurred and seeing the outpouring of feelings for the US.
I could continue with many other thoughts but I know that you probably don’t have time to read a lot of novels sent your way, just wanted to send a few of my experiences along to you.
Thanks for the opportunity to express my feelings and experiences. If you have any questions let me know.
Thanks again and keep up the good work.
Keith A. Kaser
I was in Huancayo, Peru on Sept 11. A friend and I had accompanied a family from our church who were moving
there as long-term missionaries. We went to help them get settled in their new home. Huancayo (10,500 foot
elevation) is an 8 hr bus trip (over the Andes through a 16,500 foot pass) from Lima (no airport).
We were walking to town to pick up some items and an old gentleman–obviously recognizing us as from the USA–came up and told us about what had happened. In my VERY limited Spanish comprehension, all I understood was that there had been an airplane crash and that there were many deaths. We had no idea that it was a terrorist attack on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon.
However, we went to the home of another missionary family who had been in Huancayo for some time and watch CNN just like everyone was back home. Of course we spent a few extra days in Peru! We were on Friends and Family passes, which are at the bottom of the priority list. However, it was only God’s miracle that got us on the one Delta flight leaving Lima over the 8 day period of flight interruptions! Knowing what I know now, I would leave
tomorrow for the same reasons that I went in the first place! Dick Gabriel
My 9/11 story could certainly be a lot worse, but it seemed downright surreal at the time.
I woke up on the Hawaiian island of Kauai last September 11, having arrived there the previous day to attend a conference. Actually, I was awakened at 6:00 AM local time by a phone call from my wife, suggesting that I turn on the television.
If anyone thinks they have seen Hawaii empty, I’d wager that I have seen it at its emptiest. My wife, who was supposed to join me for a week on 9/14, had her flights cancelled and was stuck at home. I was stuck on Kauai for eight days, and then Oahu for two. Everyone else but me seemed to find a flight home within 3-4 days of 9/11, leaving me in a nearly empty resort hotel, talking with a bartender about his fear that he was the next one to be laid off.
Brian Todd ~ Construction Industry Lobbyist
An image from Mark Kronquist copyright 2001 Mark Kronquist
September 11 2001 , is a day I and the United States of America lost many great citizens, to an act of Evil that should never be forgotten . We need to remember the heroism of people like my friend ,New York Fireman Gerard Duffy, who’s heroism in the line of duty cost him his life that day. All our liberty and freedoms where attacked that day, by a few terrorists with nothing but cowardice and evil in their heads and hearts. All Americans must stand up against this on September 11 2002, and remember all these brave people who were lost, and the sacrifice they made in our service. And we must not cower but stand proud in our Nations spirit of Freedom. And never let anyone make us not fly , or travel , or enjoy all the great freedoms we have fought so hard to preserve . Lets remember and never forget who attacked us, and when and where we were when it happened. God Bless our military one and all who are protecting our freedoms, with their sacrifices to serve and protect our citi zens. God Bless America, William J DeRuyter
I WAS NOT TRAVELING ON 9/11…I AM A TRAVEL AGENT AND WATCHED IN HORROR AS FLIGHTS WENT DOWN. MY WORK DAY WAS JUST STARTING AS ALL AIRCRAFT GROUNDED LEFT ME WITH PASSENGERS STRANDED IN THE ODDEST PLACES AND FAMILIES VACATIONS [WERE[ EXTENDED IN FAR OFF LANDS. WE WORKED 18 HOUR DAYS FOR ALMOST 1 WEEK GETTING PEOPLE HOME AND CONTACTING THEIR FAMILIES AND LETTING THEM KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON. STEVE AT FALLS TRAVEL IN CHAGRIN FALLS OHIO.
The morning of 9/11 I was traveling to Denver from Newark. As we were getting prepared to take off the pilot came over the loud speaker that one of the world trade towers was “on fire” and to look out the port side of the plane. Being on the port side I could see the big plume of smoke. We took off and in ten minutes we were told that Denver was clear, visibility unlimited, and no wind delays. Ten minutes after that it was announced that Denver was experiencing “extreme windshear” and that we would need to land in Cleveland to “refuel”. Twenty minutes later we landed. As we approached the terminal it was clear we were not in Cleveland but Akron, Ohio! By then some of us knew something wasn’t right and started using our cell phones to call back home. We were getting news of the towers before the captain was able to give us the news. I immediately rented a car, by cell phone, because by the time we disembarked all were taken. I was lucky and drove back home not before it was announced that two planes in front of us prior to take off was the plane that went down in PA! Doug M.