September 11, 2001 was a day just like any other. I was living in Freehold, NJ at the time, which is located about 50 miles south of New York City. My alarm went off around 8:30am like it always did, tuned into a New York City radio station. In those days, I used to go into work much later than I do now, and for some reason after getting out of bed that morning, decided to turn on Good Day NY on FOX 5 in NYC.
When I turned it on, FOX 5 had a reporter doing a story just blocks away from the World Trade Center about the mayoral primary election going on that day. While in the middle of a commercial break, the news came back on with breaking news about smoke coming out of one of the World Trade Center buildings. The reporter on the scene was reporting on hearing a loud boom and he believed it to be a plane crashing into one of the towers. This was all two minutes after American Airlines flight 11 hit the North Tower.
FOX 5 NYC had a camera rolling at the time of the first crash, where you can hear the plane hitting the building and the reporter yelling for them to go live to him:
Because I’m a news junkie, I briefly changed the channel to see if any other news channel in either NYC or Philly (where I lived we got both NYC and Philly network TV stations) were covering it. No one was, just FOX 5 in NYC. None of the cable channels were covering it either. Then all of the sudden, CNN had the breaking news and was airing FOX 5’s coverage.
You can see the breaking news I saw that morning in the video below:
I tuned back to FOX 5 and was mesmerized by what I was seeing on TV. At this point, all the other news channels were covering the story. I was sitting on my couch, fixated at the wide shot of the Twin Towers FOX 5 was showing. All of the sudden, I saw a plane come in from the side of the screen. For the brief second I saw it, I thought to myself, why is there a plane there? It’s way too close to the towers. And then all of the sudden BOOM! It was at that point I realized, just like the rest of the country, this was not an accident, the country was under attack.
Video of what I was watching when the second plane hit that morning is below:
Now I really couldn’t move from the TV. While watching the smoke billowing out of the top of both towers, how would they ever get those fires out? Would they just have to let them burn out? And what will the top of the Twin Towers look like once the fire is out? How many people were in the buildings and planes? Those were all thoughts going through my head that morning, including memories of my visits to the Twin Towers, being on the observation deck of the South Tower and the time I had dinner at the very elegant Windows on the World on the top of the North Tower.
At this point, I decided it was time to quickly get ready for work and head out. I was working at Top 40 radio station WPST, which was based in Princeton, NJ, and on my way there instead of listening to one of the all news radio stations in NYC, I listened to Howard Stern on 92.3 K-ROCK out of NYC and 94 WYSP out of Philly. To this day, I think that day was the best broadcast he’s ever had, which has actually been re-aired numerous times since that day. As I was driving in, the first tower fell. I was going as fast as I could to get to work. I turned on the station in NYC I woke up to earlier that morning, but now only static was coming through my speakers, since their antenna was located on top of one of the World Trade Center buildings, like many other media outlets in NYC.
Once at work, they were telling all employees to go home. I decided stay. We were no longer playing music, just the radio feed of ABC News.
Then fear started to set-in realizing my brother was working in Manhattan, but I didn’t know where. Since our phones at work were down and we had no cell service, there was no way to get in touch with him or my parents to see if they heard from him. Instead I sent an e-mail, but I didn’t hear anything back.
I eventually was able to get through to my mom who said they were trying to get hold of my brother. But being he was in Manhattan, it was nearly impossible to get through to anyone. Shortly after that, my brother made a call to my dad asking what was happening there. Pretty much all forms of communication, except for radio, were gone in NYC and most people had no idea what was happening, unless they were listening to the radio (the ones still on the air, mostly AM stations).
Like thousands of others that day, my brother made the walk from Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge, back to his place in Brooklyn.
Later that day I got an e-mail from a friend of mine who was also working in Manhattan. He said he was in a meeting in a conference room at work when he and his co-workers had a clear view of the first plane hitting. They evacuated his building and he made it on the last train back to New Jersey.
Another friend of mine was actually at the World Trade Center that morning. It was his first day of training for the financial company he was just hired at. It was days before I heard from him and knew he was ok. Luckily the only thing he lost that day was his luggage, which was in one of the hotels by the World Trade Center, which was destroyed.
The weekend following September 11th, I was on the air on my radio station, and we were back to music by then, but playing more “somber” top 40 music and patriotic songs. There are still certain songs from those days following the attacks we’d play on the air I cannot listen to today.
A couple weeks after the attacks, I was invited with a friend of mine to one of her friend’s birthdays in lower Manhattan. Turns out the restaurant was just a few blocks away from Ground Zero. There are quite a few things from that night I’ll never forget. The first is the skyline of the City, no more Twin Towers, which I always used for directional purposes when driving in NYC. Next was the amount of armed guards when entering and exiting the Holland Tunnel in both NJ and NYC. Once in the City, there was dust everywhere. We found a place to park on the street and noticed everyone was wearing masks. Upon opening the door of the car, I was hit with this horrible smell I’ll never forget. It’s very difficult to explain, but it was like the smell of burning wires, destruction and just plain death.
We walked as close as we could to Ground Zero and saw smoke, debris, and the skeletal remains of the buildings in the bright spotlights set-up. We got to the restaurant and it was nearly impossible to eat since every time the door opened, the horrible smell from outside would come in. After dinner, we made our way back to the car, and because of all the dust and smoke still in the air, we had to brush the car off, almost as though we were cleaning off a light layer of snow.
The months following the attacks, I thought again about the time I had dinner at Windows on the World on the top of the North Tower. Back when most restaurants would have matches for guests to take, I would always take a set to add to my collection. I was trying remember if I took matches from that night. I looked all over but couldn’t find any, and figured I probably didn’t.
Then in 2002, I was packing to move to Los Angeles and was going through some old clothes, including an old sports jacket, the same one I wore to dinner that night. Well it turns out in one of the pockets of the jacket was the set of matches I took from Windows on the World to add to my collection. Today, those matches are locked up in a fire proof safe.