September 11th 2001 I think every single person reading this blog, knows exactly where they was and what they were doing that day! Most can remember the reports coming in across the globe, reporting on the events unfolding in New York as well as Washington and Pennsylvania. Most of those watching the reports, I’m sure thought it was a movie or a trailer for a TV series or something? I’m sure nobody thought this was real and was actually happening as they were reading it, but it was very real and it really was happening.
I was working over in New York when the September 11th attacks occurred, I was working at JFK International Airport working for a company called GlobeGround North America, I was based at Terminal 7 the British Airways operation. I recall that morning was like any other really sunny and quite warm for the time of year, I set off from my home on Island Park in Long Island heading for JFK it was around 0830am, having driven through Long Beach on my way to work, I remember my cell/mobile phone ringing next to me, it was a call from my mother in the UK? At this point I was somewhere along Park Street in Atlantic Beach not to far from the Atlantic Bridge, unusual for my mum to call me so early, I answered the phone putting her on loud speaker. She immediately asked my if I was OK and if I was safe? My response I recall so clear even today was “I’m fine why wouldn’t I be safe mum?” she then got upset and said whats happening in America and New York is awful? the time I remember clearly was 0855am. I said to her that I didn’t have a clue what she was on about? (I’ never drove with the radio on) she then said through her tears, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center! I said “thats impossible mum” but how wrong I was!
I continued talking to my mum as she was explaining what was going on, I couldn’t see the city from where I was as it was hidden from view, all of a sudden my cell/mobile went dead nothing no signal nothing? I remember frantically trying to reach the office at the airport and the team to see if they were OK? But communications were down, I recall as I was driving that there was nobody about nobody on the streets, shops empty, I remember as I crossed the toll bridge I was waived through without hesitation, everybody was preoccupied on other things, as I approached Rockaway Blvd, so many thoughts running through my head, I remember speeding up anxious to get to the airport to my guys and my teams, I caught the first clear view of Manhattan smoke bellowing from from the World Trade Center North Tower, I felt an overwhelming sadness at what I seeing, as continued down Rockaway Blvd towards the airport, I saw the 2nd aircraft flying along the skyline, surprised at how low he was flying? At that point I saw him fly straight into the South Tower! A massive explosion occurred even from the distance I was it was immense, flames, smoke debris everywhere it was horrific to see and equally frightening, I remember whizzing up to the security ramp access point close to building #6. The security guard at the booth was sobbing, he was called Barrington Jeffers (I think) I asked him, what was up? he said his brother works in the WTC and had been in his office since 0800am, I remember telling him that hopefully he got out or was in a safe location, he turned to me and said “he works on the 92nd floor of North f**k, f**k he ain’t answering his cell” I tried to calm him down, I called his supervisor to come and look after him as he was in a bad way, and unable to function in his role, I waited for about 10 mins until somebody came to help Barrington and let me through the security post to the ramp, I gave Barrington my cell and told him to call me, when he hears from his brother.
Driving across JFK’s ramp was eerie there were aircraft all over the place just stopped, askew taxiways, across terminal points just a strange surreal stillness, port authority vehicles were whizzing around, but nothing else just a strange kind of apocalyptic per-calmness before something big was going to happen? I remember entering the building staff were mulling around some in a kind of shock, there was elements of anger at what was happening, there was sadness, there were guys in that were profoundly worried for friends and loved ones who could be caught up in this awful event happening only 13.05 miles away, our EMT were meeting with both our customer airlines and the port authority to plan what was needed, first and foremost was ensuring any of our customer aircraft that were still on the ground could get back onto stands to let their frightened passengers off the aircraft, I remember our guys immediately getting out on the ramp and clearing all the dollies and OTR’s, I remember them without being asked rushing out FOD walking the whole area, so it was safe for returning aircraft, I think the guys needed to remain busy and active, those early moments on that ramp I can honestly say, every single one of the guys and gals I worked with were incredible, without hesitation they performed their individual tasks so eloquently, in spite of the horrific events going on around them, they never faltered once! So often these guys were taken for granted, and under valued but during this event, they became my family watching out for each other, knowing I was on my own in New York, they constantly told me I wasn’t alone and they were all there for me, I never forgot that and never will, they were my friends and still are.
We got a call at 0945am that all US airspace was completely closed, anything flying had to get on the ground at the nearest safe landing point, 90% of the transatlantic traffic was diverting into Canada, airports such as Halifax, St Johns and Gander taking the majority of the traffic, I recall that I had driven around to Terminal 1 where GlobeGround North America also had an operation, I cannot remember why I needed to go across but nevertheless that’s where I was stood, when a Port Authority Police car slammed his brakes where I was stood with a colleague, he jumped from his car yelling “ Holy F**k* No No No, what the F**k is happening here” his finger pointing to Manhattan, it was then we stood and watched the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapse, a low distant rumble could be heard, as the majestic tower, gave into the attack it had sustained and from standing so tall and proud looking across this great city, descended slowly into clouds of dust, taking with her so many brave people as it disappeared from sight, not sure what I felt at this point? dumbstruck, shock, scared, anxious I honestly don’t know. Behind me I could hear people screaming, I saw people coming out looking at what I was watching hands on faces, tears streaming down there faces, these were moments and reflections I can never forget.
The next 20 minutes or so were a whirlwind I actually cannot remember what I was doing? what I do recall was standing at the door of the jetbridge on gate 3 back at terminal 7, outside by the steps, I could see the smoke rising from Manhattan where the South Tower had fallen and could clearly see the North Tower smoke pouring from the top of the tower where the 2nd aircraft had hit, that I had watched earlier, my view was unobscured of the City from where I was, (the picture below shows what standing on gate 3 was like) it was at exactly at 1028am (and 22 seconds) I stood quietly alone and watched the North Tower fall just the same as its sister tower, at that point I remember the tear rolling down my cheeks, so much sadness, so much death happening in front of me, the fear and the sadness of the day need to be released, as I stood there looking at this awful sight in front of me, I held my head in my hands and I let that emotion out.
A lot of details after watching that are sketchy, a mixture of being profoundly busy, as well as stopping to watch reports as they were coming through, talking to each other and offering words of comfort where we could, some of the teams had gone home to be with their own families in these harrowing of times, I remember calling up my mum and dad just to let them know I was safe and well and where I was, just to reassure them I guess as communications as you can imagine had been down a lot of the morning, I remember ringing my now fiancee who at the time was working as cabin crew for Air Atlanta Icelandic, she told me she was currently in Sharjah in the UAE at the time of the attacks, due to take passenger somewhere, she said there was TV monitors in the terminal building where they were watching the events happen, also there were many others in the terminal passengers, workers etc. she recalls when footage of the building collapsing was being shown, there were loud cheers and a sense of such happiness, people actually clapping and applauding these awful events! Utterly disgusting! She advised me that the aircraft was going to leave Sharjah empty and with all the lights off in the aircraft operating in complete darkness as advised, I was anxious that she got the hell out of the country ASAP! Consequently she did leave not long after our call safely flying out in the darkness back to a safer airport. I worked late into the evening then on in to the early hours before heading home, exhausted and overwhelmed, I remember reaching my home, the owner of the house was sat on his steps to his front door, he had raised the American flag outside his home, he was sat there with a beer in his hand, I remember sitting next to him he told me to grab a “cold one” which I did, he then said he should of been in the city that morning, he was an electrical contractor and they were due to work, at the World Trade Center, he had got caught up in traffic due to a fender bender before he reached the tunnel crossing, he never made it into Manhattan, but many of his co-workers had already arrived that morning and were in working, they were still unaccounted for. I sat with him for a while before I had to go and grab some sleep, I could no longer function.
It was surreal the next day hearing fighter jets over head patrolling the skies, they were armed and they were on alert, strange to see army vehicles screaming pass you heading towards the city, a weird new day was confronting everybody, I remember as I drove to the airport seeing people, in the streets kind of like zombies, no expression no life in them shock still taking hold of the good people of America, I decided on day two after the attacks I needed to go into Manhattan I needed to go and reflect, pay my respects and just sit and contemplate just what the hell had happened in the last 48 or so hours, that was reverberating around the globe, I kept in touch with my good buddy in New York, Mark Appleton he was my unofficial unrelated brother, he and his family were amazing to me, along with Jeff and Karen. I jumped on one of our company buses that was assisting with the efforts transporting things to and from the city, as I slowly walked down 5th avenue over past the Flatiron Building down Broadway towards Union Square Park, I was completely overwhelmed by the volumes of people, I could hear people shouting out other peoples names frantically trying to find their loved ones, there was photo’s posted on every possible surface of those missing or unaccounted for, there was flowers everywhere, thousands of candles lit, a flower montage of the WTC was a focal point in the middle of the park, there was so much sadness and anger mixed throughout the park, I had to leave at first as it was overwhelming, I carried on down to where the towers once stood smoke still rising into the air, and an awful aroma filled the air, I’ll never forget that smell it was bitter and rotten.
I spent a long time in Union Square Park chatting to people and just being amongst other people, street performers played there guitars and instruments to try to lift spirits somehow, there was no buckets placed down expecting money, it was New Yorker’s coming together as one to try and help each other through this horrific period, to try to come to terms with what had happened, the atmosphere was calm and I felt safe it was way into the early hours when I made my way back to Long Island and my home on Island Park, slowly as the days moved to weeks JFK began to operate as it normally did, and our terminals and operations were almost back to capacity, it wasn’t forgotten not by a long shot, but life had to carry on we had to move forward, and through our teams and the amazing individuals we had employed with us, we carried on through the hardest of times together a solid unwavering unit. I remember driving around the ramp one evening, as I drove near Hanger 17 I noticed numerous things outside, it was only when I got close to them I realized what they were, they were steel girders from the WTC, the subway cars from underneath the buildings, crushed fire vehicles and taxis etc.
I saw over the next several weeks, truck after truck bringing various items to this hanger unaware what was inside knew it had to be items from ground zero but wasn’t sure. It was one morning after I had been to the Biz port, I went passed Hanger 17 and saw the security guard waiting by his vehicle near the entrance, as I drove over to say Hi I noticed it was Barrington Jeffers the guy I had spoken to on day 1, he had a brother on the 92nd floor, he remembered me and gave me a typical Island greeting a hug but with shoulders (if you know what I mean), I asked him how his brother was and what had happened? He confirmed his brother had in fact died on that day, somebody he worked with had gotten out the building before the collapse, she had been in contact with him, and recalled what had happened, once the plane had hit, there was fire and carnage everywhere, all the people at the far end of the floor were ushered down stairwells, she said she had seen Barrington’s brother alive, but instead of coming down with the others, she remembers him and some others, going upstairs, to help others out she assumed, that was the last she saw of him, not long after she left the building, it came crashing down, sadly Barrington’s brother was inside still, to this day he does not know if his brother died in the fire, or from when the building collapsed, he does not even know if he managed to save anybody, all I could tell him was his brother was “a complete hero a f*****g legend” I shook Barrington’s hand offered my condolences but also told him, it was a privilege to shake the hand of a relative of a real hero, not a fictional person in a cape, but a genuine hero, in spite of the terrible conditions in front of him, ran into hell to try and save others. He thanked me then asked what I was doing, I told him where I had been, and often drove past just wondering what sadness was inside? Barrington said “I’ll take you in bro” he disappeared for a minute then came out with his supervisor and a Port Authority Police officer, they said they would take me in, but urged me not to take any pictures, as what was inside was parts of the WTC, crushed vehicles, subway cars, personal items from victims, clothing, fire helmets, mangled bicycles so many different items all born through tragedy, the pictures below are stock pictures from the internet of what was in hanger 17, I saw all these items raw, before they were arranged for viewing.
I like everybody else will never forget the events that took place on September 11th 2001, for those of us there and witnessed this awful tragedy, it will leave a lasting imprint on all of us, we do not sit there each day thinking solely about it, but when September 11th comes around each year, we stop and and reflect, close our eyes and we are back there remembering what we did to help, and how we got through such a terrible time, we recall all the stories of bravery as well as the stories of profound sadness and horror, we try to put aside our anger at what they did, instead we look at peace and reconciliation we hope and pray it will never happen again, I got through this period through the strength and support of all the guys I worked with, who formed a protective circle around us all, without even realizing they had done to name but a few of the amazing guys and gals that I can recall as there were so so many, Andy Shawcross, Asgeir Asgeirsson, Barrington James, Bruce Johnson, Chucky Smith, Clifton Henry, Conrad August, Dan Sewell, Everett Sparks, Greg Powell, Hobart Grant, Jacques, Jeff Wright, Conrad Dalland, Keeble Medwinter, Keith Patterson, Keith “Heavy” Bryant, Mick Baker, Natasha Forde, Ovi Sanchez, Jim Groak, Terry Hennessy, Ritchie Esposito, Boyce, Samantha Abrahams, Sarah Blackford, Scotty Gerber and all the engineers, Stephen Manswell, Tamieka Senior, Gabriela Rambay, Wayne Green, Darwin Benevides, Joe Bonaventura, Roy Cascio, Mark Wetherington, Gene Roy, Ernest Ceasar, Frank Romano, Anthony Eastmond, Shawn Scott, Alexa Perez, Claude Rodriguez and so many more. We all formed a bond we had each others back, for that I will always be eternally grateful to all these guys, the teamwork and the friendship at JFK was truly incredible and inspiring, a moment in my life I will never forget not only for the tragic events but the awe inspiring determination of ordinary people, to overcome such adversity and tragedy. I thank you humbly each and every one of you. stay safe Paul 05.03.2021
4 thoughts on “September 11th 2001 and Me! A view from JFK Airport.”
Great read Paul, the day the world stood still. Thanks for this
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So sad that day I remember were I was when it happened. The same has when jfk was killed can not for getting them
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It was a sad day for sure I still remember what I was doing that morning as I live across the county from NY. It was a school day and I was in the middle of getting my boys ready for school and the tv was not on and my phone rang and it was a friend telling me to turn on the tv I did and I was in shock I could not believe what I was seeing I cry even now just thinking about it. I am glad you were safe during that I know it must have been so sad and crazy to see it all up close, so many people like you and others all came together to help and do whatever they could to help others and each other. It was a sad day for our country. What you said about what was going on where your sister was during it is sad and make me very angry, I am so glad that your sister got out of there fast and safely.
Paul, thank you so much for sharing your post. It brings back so many memories and emotions. Your insights and recollection is a tribute to all those impacted by the devastation of 9-11 and an inspiration to the humanity and kindness of ordinary people always willing to step out and help someone. It’s been a long time since we last spoke but you are an amazing friend and I wish you and your family all the best moving forward in life. I’ll be sure to share your blog.
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