I was at work, in the Engineering Department of a local municipality. My usual workday started at 8:00 a.m. and the day was business as usual as far as I can recall.
At some point, after my daily coffee-making and re-filling of the office humidifier, my boss – I don’t remember if he said something or not – was in his office watching the news on his tv, and that was where my coworkers were all located.
I went in to see what was going on and the talk was about how a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. A small private plane? None of us imagined at that moment that the tower had been hit by a full-size passenger jet; none of us would have even considered this as a possibility I don’t think. There were views offered of a smoking tower from various angles. No footage of the plane hitting the building.
Just a normal news story as far as we were concerned – unusual and unfortunate, but not unbelievable for a morning in America…until a few minutes later when a second plane struck the second tower. Now there were concerns about how this couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. We stayed glued to the tv.
Then…an hour later?…the Pentagon was hit. There was no doubt that we were under attack (and by “we” I mean the United States of America). Not a coincidence. AND OUR SECRETARY’S SON WORKED AT THE PENTAGON.
She tried calling his office, his cell phone, his family. No one knew anything – it was too early for any coherent information to get out about individual people, and there was so much cellular activity during these moments that most calls couldn’t get through.
New York City. Washington, D.C. Can’t reach loved ones.
Our secretary was beside herself. Panic set in. I took the phone from her and said that I would dial the number until I got through. I sat at her desk, dialed, hung up, dialed, hung up, over and over. I never even got a line out.
Then Shanksville, Pennsylvania. A plane down on the ground, in a field not 45 minutes away from where I was sitting. The Engineering Department was housed in the Public Safety building. We were on lock-down. No one in, no one out. Armed guards at every door.
Then – the phone call went through – and – “I GOT HIM!” I screamed to the other room where our secretary was watching tv. “I HAVE HIM ON THE PHONE!! HE’S OKAY!!”. She rushed in, we made the hand-off, and I left her office to give her some privacy with her son. He was across the street at a meeting in another building that morning.
Of course, no one knew at that moment that the attack was over. Eventually I had to walk away from the tv, just had to stop watching. Too much to think about and not anything that anyone could do about it.
Lunchtime – still on lockdown and no one had brought lunch with them that morning. We were all complaining that we should be sent home, especially if city officials were thinking that our building was a potential target. I was finally let out to get lunch for everyone after some bargaining with the police officer at the door. This was maybe two hours or so after the last plane came down and tension was a little less.
The city was absolutely quiet. No one said anything. Just ordered their meals and left.
The rest of the day went by slowly. Why we didn’t all just leave, I don’t know. I guess we had each other at the office and that was a good thing.
What I learned later:
My friend Kate, who worked downtown in D.C., had to walk miles out of the city – no public transportation was running – until she finally met up with her husband who had been driving around the City trying to find her. They couldn’t use cell phones to connect. Fighter planes flew overhead all day. Everyone was walking.
One of the prominent businessmen in town nearly lost his daughter that day. She was doing business in the second tower when the first tower was hit. She panicked and left because she felt extremely claustrophobic all of a sudden. She got out alive.
National Geographic’s Ann Judge and Joe Ferguson were on Flight 77, along with a group of teachers and students, bound for a NOAA research project in California.
Robert LeBlanc, Geography Professor Emeritus at the University of New Hampshire, was on Flight 175.
What do you remember?