Ten years ago today I turned 17-years-old. I was in grade 11 and I recall that Tuesday very clearly. I thought it would be just another Tuesday, another birthday really. Little did I know it would become one of the most significant days in history.
I had a very average day at school, as per usual. Birthdays are birthdays and when you’re 17 and your mates are trying to be cool because of the age you are, nobody really makes a big deal about it. I finished school and headed off home to start studying for a Biology test I had the next day. When I used to study for my tests and exams I could never do so in complete silence. I don’t like dead silence too much, so I had the radio on in the background. One of 5FM’s top DJs at the time was Darren Scott. He, together with his team, presented the drive time show. I remember him doing his show in a normal manner, the usual banter between the team; the news; the sport and of course the traffic every half an hour. etc etc In between all the banter were some banging tunes, but I was focusing on my work. My cellphone was even on silent because I needed to focus on the test (I had dinner to go to a little later).
During one of the songs, Darren cut it and said something along the lines of sorry to cut that song, but we’ve just heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City. One of the my favourite cities in the world is New York City and so as soon as I heard that I thought oh damn, I need to see what’s going on. It was there that the rest of the events unfolded. I mean that doesn’t happen in our lifetime right? So I, together with millions of people around the world, sat glued to my TV screen watching one of the world’s tallest and most iconic buildings smouldering away in what was otherwise a beautiful day in the magical New York City. It was bizarre and quite freakish actually. A plane had hit the tower by accident and it was awful… So we thought. You could see people were trapped and were obviously trying to get out of the building, some even jumped because what we later found out, there was no other way to escape as the emergency exits had been damaged due to the plane crashing into them. Some fifteen minutes later a big shock came. We saw another passenger jet coming in from the left of the screen at such a rapid speed and it literally flew straight into the second World Trade Center building. When you see this you don’t actually know what to think. It’s unheard of. I mean not one plane, but two? Each plane flying into two of America’s most iconic buildings. Who does this? Why do they have so much hatred and what the hell is going on were just some of the thoughts going through my head? What were you thinking? Where were you?
As the buildings smouldered, news network CNN was reporting that several other jets couldn’t be accounted for and that there were fears that there might be more coordinated attacks on the go. American State Security went into a tizz, trying to locate the missing planes, but the terrorists were one step ahead of them. A third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington DC. It later emerged that a fourth plane, believed to be on route to the White House, crashed in an open field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The occupants of that plane turned on the hijackers and after hearing about both the Trade Center and the Pentagon disasters. The plane crashed killing everyone on board. When you hear about all of this you really don’t know how to take this all in. The word ‘terror’ and the term ‘terrorist attack’ had never been in my vocabulary up until this point. I sat watching the smouldering Towers, the Pentagon disaster unfolding too, all the while trying to make sense of all of this. Some 56 minutes later, the first Tower fell. It literally dissolved into a big mass of thick, dark cloud of dust, rubble. The South Tower covered everything in its path and killing scores of innocent people.
Watching those events unfold was one of the most unbelievably sad moments of my life. You could sense the sheer desperation so many must’ve felt in the minutes before the tower fell and how so many of them had contacted their loved ones to say their final goodbyes. There was absolutely nothing that could be done to stop the tower from collapsing and nobody could’ve predicted that from happening. Some of the reporters actually didn’t know how to put this into words.
A few minutes later the second Tower fell. I remember tears welling up in my eyes and I vividly remember watching some of the news anchors absolutely dumbstruck by all of this. Their job was and is to tell stories, deliver them to a global audience. Their loss for words told more of a story than could ever meet the eye. “There you see the second tower, the front tower the top portion of which is collapsing. Good Lord. There are no words. This is just a horrific scene and a horrific moment”
I have had the privilege of visiting New York City three times in my life. I’ve been to Ground Zero and I spent some time walking around the museum that was set up to honour and remember those lost. Reading some of the stories, seeing parts of the building, firemen’s helmets, hearing some of the trapped voices from inside the Towers still saddens me, even ten years on. Today I watched family members on site reading the names of their loved ones around what is now called the 9/11 Memorial site and I realized how strong and how powerful these families and others are. They’re showing they are the leaders of the ‘Free World’ and that terrorism will be beaten, that there is no place for such weak and dark forces in this world. As hard as it still is for many of them, their loved ones were never and will never be forgotten. My condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to the families still.