On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke in a northern California hotel room and turned on the television just in time to see a plane hit the second World Trade Center tower in Manhattan. I lost acquaintances whose offices were in the World Trade Center towers, and one was spared after his young daughter asked him not to leave on his flight from Boston to Los Angeles and have breakfast with her instead.
Eighteen years later, others recall their own stories of horror, disbelief, and sadness, even luck.
At the time, Kevin Lee, Didit executive chairman and founder, had his office on 30th Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan. He lived at 60th and Amsterdam, and often biked to work.
Lee would check his email at home and then bike into the office down the path that ran along the Hudson and across 30th Street. He was about to leave for the office when his sister called to alert him to the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings.
So, he turned on the TV and after about ten minutes decided to head to the office anyway to advise and support his team, who were likely there.
When he got to 30th Street he saw the smoke downtown and felt compelled to bike a bit further, because he wanted to validate what happened.
“I continued down to 23rd Street because having biked the Hudson path many times, I knew from there you had a good view of the towers,” Lee said. “The cops wouldn’t let me go further even if I had wanted to.”
Lee said it remained just as surreal from 23rd Street, but there was no way he could have guessed what would happen later in the morning after walking with his team to 6th Avenue, which was packed.
“Others also knew you had a view of the towers, but I almost wish I wasn’t looking south when at 10:28 the north tower collapsed,” Lee said. “The whole day had already been numbing, but seeing the tower go down added a deep sadness. As the news came in, I tried to process the fact that there was senseless evil in the world, and one never knows when one might be directly impacted by that evil.”
"It wasn’t until later that day that we remembered that the company's Maestro PPC bid management reporting servers were at 25 Broadway. They ran for several hours on diesel generators, because the electricity was out, until the soot from the collapse of the buildings clogged the air filters and the entire server farm went dark, including other company servers that managed Wall Street."
Others had experiences of terror and sadness from afar.
Janel Laravie, CEO at Chacka Marketing, had just flown back to Tampa, Florida late on September 10, following her sister’s wedding the day before. At the time she served food at the original Outback Steakhouse. Her shift began around 10:30 in the morning.
"I woke up and turned the TV on to see coverage of some type of explosion in one of the World Trade Center towers," she said. "I watched as a small speck moved in the background and a second explosion occurred in the other tower. I immediately felt an emptiness and a fear that I can only hope I will never feel again. Once we knew that multiple airplanes had been hijacked, we all knew that we were under attack and never had a President’s words, 'God Bless America,' rang so powerfully."
Regardless, Laravie went to work that day, but there were very few customers to serve. She was relieved that the restaurant wasn't busy, because all eyes were glued to the television screen. She remembers being frightened for her friends, her family and herself.
"Life changed that day," Laravie said. "When we say, 'Never Forget,' it is because we never will."
Jonathan Kagan, VP of search at Cogniscient Media, will never forget that day as a freshman in college at Castleton University, Vermont, getting ready for class. The janitor knocked on his dorm room door and said that the U.S. was being attacked.
"At first we thought some small plane had hit a building and it was nothing," Kagan said. "Then we turned on the news and my roommate saw his father, a NYPD detective, directing traffic near the WTC before the second plane hit the building. We wouldn’t hear that he was okay for two more days, news that was delivered to him from someone in New Jersey. My roommate couldn’t get hold of anyone in the metro NYC area for three days."
Like so many others, when Kagan first heard the news he was completely confused about the events that just occurred. He became concerned as others around him began using xenophobic and islamophobic language to describe the attacks. After things became more clear within a few days, "all I could think was oh god, we’re going into World War 3."
Marty Weintraub, founder of Aimclear, was in Duluth, Minnesota, at work editing a video for a television commercial.
“I saw the first tower collapse on a small black and white TV someone had at work,” Weintraub said. “It was devastating, surrealistic, and struck fear in my heart. I knew a number of people who worked in the twin towers and I felt intense worry.”
Weintraub remembers thinking Katie Couric’s coverage was brilliant. It walked the line of informational, human, and sensitive. He called the event “a gut sucker punch moderated in the crucible of American Media.” One of “America's most tragic moments,” but media came through during its finest hours.
For Udayan Bose, founder at NetElixir, the day will forever remain etched in his memory. At the time, Bose worked for ICI Paints in Mumbai, India, which has a 9.5-hour time difference from New York.
As he returned home that evening, his wife gave him the news. “At that moment the world changed forever,” Bose said. “The terror strikes and the many innocent people who were killed that day in many ways were a chilling reminder of the world we live in.”
Although he and his wife were more than 8,000 miles away in Mumbai, they felt more connected to New Yorkers.
“Indeed, while terror changed the world, that moment also made the world a lot more connected,” Bose said. “The world had suddenly shrunk.”
Where were you on September 11, 2001?