The events of 11 September 2001 changed the world.

Some people can recall exactly where we were when they heard the news that a plane had struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, others have learnt about the attacks second-hand and the world has seen and experienced the aftershocks of 9/11 in one way or another.

Explore personal accounts that show how the consequences of 9/11 were felt at the time and how they continue to shape our world. 

Contains some strong language.

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David Hancock worked for Deutsche Bank in New York. His office was in a building that formed part of the World Trade Center complex. He later donated his building pass, with the expiry day of 9/11/2001, to Imperial War Museums.

"On the morning of Tuesday 11th September 2001 I was due to be in the office at the World Trade Center for 7.30 for a morning call with the offices in Frankfurt. At the time I was working for Deutsche Bank.

The prior weekend had been very busy for me and I was exhausted, in common with many New Yorkers. I had a holiday rental in Fire Island and it had been another crazy weekend of parties. I made it into the office on Monday very bleary eyed, but by Tuesday the weekend had caught up with me, so I phoned in sick.

My apartment was located on the top floor in a small block Chelsea and my bedroom window looked downtown toward the WTC. On that day my phone kept ringing and I just ignored it. After four or five calls, now awake, I answered the call in a very grumpy manner and was greeted with: ‘My god you’re alive!’, from my closest friend.

My immediate retort was ‘What the fuck, of course I am’. My friend then blurted out that the World Trade Center had collapsed. I was pretty rude in reply and told him to wait.

I then went to the window and opened my blinds. It was about 10.30 am. All I could see was cloud, which is what I told him. He repeated what had happened. It was at this point things hit me.

I always describe it as watching some old Hitchcock suspense movie, where someone is in a corridor and suddenly everything rushes past to come into sharp focus. This is exactly what happened.

All of a sudden everything rushed into focus and I could clearly see that the ‘Cloud’ was indeed a huge cloud of dust enveloping the WTC site. Suddenly I could hear the roar of sirens on the ground and many many jets and helicopters in the sky.

My stomach instantly tightened and I felt nauseous. Immediately I thought about my parents, back in the UK, and that they must be worried sick.

My friend told me phones were jammed and it was only luck he managed to get through to me. I asked him to try to contact my parents and I would try as well.

At that point my intercom rang and I went to answer it. I was greeted with “Thank god you're alive’. I recognised it instantly as a work colleague, Dan. He had walked 3 miles from the World Trade Centre to my apartment. He came up to my apartment. He told me he had been arriving at the offices when the first plane had hit and ran. He had managed to speak to some colleagues and they identified I was missing. So he volunteered to go to my apartment to find me.

After a few minutes we went up to the roof terrace. I was hit was an acrid taste to the air, deafening noise of sirens, military jets and helicopters, but deserted streets.

It was just like a corny disaster movie, but totally real. The roof deck had an uninterrupted view of the WTC. All I could see was a large cloud of smoke. I kept tying to phone my parents and we also kept trying to message and contact work colleagues and friends, mostly to engaged tones or failed messages

We probably stood for several hours watching the scene unfold. I think by around 2pm an SMS message got to me that my parents had been told I was OK.

It took many years for the full impact of that day and the aftermath to really hit me. I quit my job and came back to the UK pretty much as a direct result of those events. I also had many years therapy, to deal with long term depression. I don't blame those events for this but they were certainly a key trigger.

I can say that had I not been out and had a crazy weekend, I would have been in the office. I probably would have made it out, but I am not sure at what cost. So I can say a ‘DJ saved my life’.

To this day I have never watched the footage, nor can I watch any of the many tv programmes about it. Each anniversary I just stay at home. Only in the past few years can I talk about it.

That my building pass has the expiry date of 9.11.2001, always spooked me. I didn't want to keep it, it felt lucky but unlucky at the same time, I decided to donate it to the Imperial War Museum.”

(Documents.19699 An identity security pass for entry into the World Trade Center buildings in New York, issued to a Deutsche Bank employee, David Hancock, with the poignant expiry date of 11 September 2001)

Portrait photograph of Carole Ashworth standing in her uniform in front of an aircraft

Carole Ashworth, flight attendant. 

“I was employed by an international airline at the time and had done many trips to NYC, and had been on the viewing decks at the top of the Twin Towers a few times, as well as going on the helicopter pleasure flights from Manhattan Heliport, which flew around the area and close to the Towers.

On that dreadful day I was at home on standby and couldn't believe what I was watching unfold on TV.

Two days later I was at work on a Boeing 757 on a short haul flight, which was the same type of aircraft used by the terrorists and I had so many images in my head of how awful it must have been for the crews involved when they were hijacked. The passengers that day were ever so quiet which was unusual and they were allowed no hand luggage at all, just a plastic wallet with vital medication, money, credit cards, tickets etc.  They all shook our hands on disembarking, thanking us for getting them safely to their destination and many even had tears in their eyes, as did the crew, which was also very unusual.

It was very difficult for many years after 9/11 working for the airline and we constantly faced redundancy, wage cuts, increased hours, security threats and new operating procedures, however I stayed there until I eventually accepted redundancy in 2014. It had never been the same job again.

My son who had been an air cadet at age 15 and previously wanted to become a pilot had to give up that dream as he realised how scarce flying jobs were.  Instead he became a Royal Marine Commando and fought in Afghanistan. Fortunately he survived two tours of duty but lost many of his brave comrades during the conflict and many more suffered life changing injuries.”

Portrait photographer of a journalist at a rebel camp, Farkhar valley, Takhar province, northern Afghanistan, November 1991
Courtesy of Chris Woolf

Chris Woolf, British journalist living in the United States on September 11, 2001

"I was working for the BBC in Boston, as News Editor for an international news show on US public radio called "The World." So we watched and reported it all in real time. I had just separated from my wife the day before. Kids got sent home from elementary school in time to see the bodies falling from the towers. 

After a long day, I went home on the subway to check on the kids - a man was crying - he had until recently been working on one of the top floors of the WTC. All his friends were gone. 

My 9-year old son asked, as I tucked him into bed, if a plane hit the Hancock Tower - the tallest building in Boston - would it land on us? 

The next day, my reporter in NYC told me the one thing no-one discussed on air was the putrid stench of death that filled lower Manhattan.

I had been in the [Territorial Army] and I had reported from Afghanistan for the BBC World Service and I knew the country. So on Sep 17 2001 or so I wrote to the US Army to offer my services and was willing to reinlist in the infantry. I never heard back. 

That Sunday I went to church for the first time in  a long time and met and prayed with the priest after the service, as I was in charge of correspondent safety for "The World," so I would have to decide who would be going to war, and preparing them.

That was just the beginning.  

The picture is myself in Afghanistan in 1991, just after meeting  Mujahidin leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, at his base in the Farkhar Valley, in Takhar province. It's the same base where he was assassinated ten years later, on 9 Sep 2001, by two al-Qaeda operatives posing as journalists."

  • Sital, tourist in New York

    Sital travelled to New York for a wedding in September 2001, visiting the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center on 10 September.

    “On the morning of the awful day, we watched the story unfold on the news. We stood in complete shock and horror. We couldn't get through to our families to let them know we were safe. NYC changed from being a lively non -stop city to almost complete silence - main noise being the emergency service sirens. The streets soon filled with police and locals were on full alert.”

    Sital remembers noticing the immediate changes 9/11 brought – on the flight to New York, passengers used metal cutlery but on the return flight it was plastic.

    “[I} also noticed a change in [the] flight attendant's attitude - understandably very anxious and on high alert. But our meal trays were almost flung to us - we were all Asian or Black.”

  • Jonathan, journalist working in London

    Jonathan describes 9/11 at the "most significant" of his career broadcast news but probably the beginning of his shift away from it. 

    "My wife, Alison, and I had driven into work together; she had a shift at BBC World TV, and I had a day in the Radio News Intake area. As I sat down in my studio to begin my shift, I looked up at the TV monitor and saw the second aircraft hit the World Trade Centre. I turned to Ali and said, 'I think you’d better get back to the newsroom'. I didn’t see her until the following evening. My shift extended to 16 hours.
     

    I spent most of the afternoon ‘managing the queue’ of an incoming feed from New York. It must have been satellite, there few landlines available, and VoIP was in its infancy. We had to sustain the feed, or we would be cut off from the story. On the other end of the line was Stephen Evans, then the BBC’s North America Business Correspondent; it was my job to keep the line open, keep him chatting, and switch it between various studios when he was ready to do a ‘hit’ into each outlet.


    Stephen had been in the Tower when the first attack took place and had of course witnessed the second impact. His witness testimony is breath-taking, and very well documented in the archives."

  • Amy

    “I walked into Mexico across the land border at San Diego on the afternoon of September 11th 2001. The city had shut down and our motel owners doubted the border would be open. It was, and when we reached Rosario that night I stood on the beach facing the sunset over the Pacific; I knew when it rose the next day a different world would greet it.”

  • Craig, schoolchild

    Craig was 15 years old and was "bunking off" school with two friends. 

    "We had the TV on and once one of the shows had finished the news cut in to say Flight 11 had hit the World Trade Center in a horrific accident. We sat dumbfounded watching the smoke pour from the windows for what seemed like an age, and then there, live on the TV, three young boys watched along with the world as the second plane hit. The word ‘terrorism’ was mentioned and the only thing I could think of is 'Why would the IRA target America?'.

    I had zero concept of Islamist Terrorism and in the following 20 years would unfortunately see the words ‘Islamist’ and ‘Terrorist’ become more frequently linked. It was a terrifying glimpse into the fragility of human life and the futility of conflict, beamed live into the brains of three impressionable young boys.”

  • Harry

    “I was 5 years old on September 11th 2001. I remember being picked up from school in West Sussex by my mother. She told my brother and I that something awful had happened in America.  When I got home I remember seeing footage of the twin towers of the World Trade Center burning and collapsing on BBC News.

    My dad was a commercial airline pilot and was at Heathrow about to fly the London to New York JFK route that day. The dispatcher informed him before he pushed back from the gate that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  At that moment everyone thought it was a light aircraft or an accident. By the time he was at the end of the runaway and ready to take off, 15 minutes had passed. Air traffic control then had informed them that they were being instructed to return to the gate, that US airspace was closed and that they would give them more info when they were back on stand. They heard that a second plane had hit the south tower. My dad tells me that the American passengers returning home on the flight were frantically trying to reach friends, that their beepers and pagers were going off. They stayed at Heathrow for a number of hours until they were allowed to disembark. My dad came home that night but, being 5 years old and thinking that my dad was the only pilot in the world, I asked if it was his plane that hit the towers. I put this down to my mind being like a sponge at such a young age. You see something and you make a connection because your father flies planes in America.”

     

  • Laura, schoolchild in London

    Laura celebrated her 16th birthday on 10 September 2001 and was sitting in a history lesson as school when the attacks in America began. 

    "Today we would have all known in an instant, but I didn’t find out until I walked into the corner shop by my school at around 3.20pm with my friend Sarah. Sid, the kindly old man who ran the place, was staring aghast at the portable TV on the shop counter. The second plane had hit the tower around 15 minutes before. I made it home just before 4pm and saw the tower crumble live on BBC News, watching with my mum and my sister.

    Having just turned 16 and starting Year 11 everything about that September so far had been 'welcome to adulthood!” and 'this is the world you’re about to enter into as a grown up!'. And suddenly that message became that the world I was inheriting was broken and terrifying. The conversation was all about getting good GCSE grades so that we could do A Levels and go to good universities and go out and change the world and suddenly I wondered if there would even be a world for us to change. It seemed conceivable that we might all end up being blasted off the face of the earth before we got that far."

  • Daniel

    Daniel was a Lance Corporal in the intelligence/surveillance Platoon and watched the events of September 11 on the news. 

    “With this shocking news it was the start of operations for my regiment and myself for the next twenty years, taking me into Iraq and Afghanistan. I only came back from Kabul summer 20 and now feel, well I still don’t know … every thing we have done and lost has no meaning any more.”

  • Shana, high school student in Florida.

    This was my ‘Kennedy moment’: a moment where my self-reflection as an American changed forever. A new world had been wrenched into view, and like it or not, we now occupied it. Twenty years later, that reflection is even more clouded, laden with dread, doubt and sorrow. Sorrow at how, seemingly, my home country has been one increasingly dominated by paranoia, division, and lethal levels of polarization. Whether we will ever regain that brief sense of unity that glimmered the morning after 9/11, I do not know.”

  • John, soldier and later executive director at IWM

    “9/11 changed my whole life and career.  I was a career soldier and on the day was working in an Arms Directorate looking at force design and maintenance.  When the story broke we all started to gather offering various views on the outcome. We were all wrong. Up until then we thought there would be one central opponent in global conflict based on our cold war experience. We knew there would be sideshows like the Falklands but planning, serious soldiering, always focused on the imagined big threat. In between news bulletins I remember going back to my office to write a paper on the urgent needs of not cutting support for heavy armoured equipment in Germany as that seemed a priority.  What was to unfold was the opposite. Over the next 10 years my time was spent around the world in various conflict zones trying to find a fleeting adversary tangible often only through their cause and purpose not their physical presence. Able to strike anywhere, through many means, including my fellow countryman. There was no front line even in the conflict zone and the conflict zone could be anywhere, NYC, Borough Market or Afghanistan. The tanks and equipment I was writing to protect on 9/11 were stunningly almost obsolete in a single day as was our attitudes to this sort of conflict.”

  • Florence, filmmaker in New York

    “Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. My small children were inside PS 234, their elementary school just three blocks north of the Twin Towers. Their father and I were standing in the schoolyard with other parents. We were right there when a huge plane flew low and loud over our heads….The sounds of it crashing still haunt me….the horror is seared in my memory.”

    “For years later, when we’d hear a plane, my children would ask, Mom, is that plane going to fly into that building? It was a horrible question with no decisive answer.”

    The school community got through the months that followed and ten years later, alumni were invited back to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Florence filmed some of the children – now teenagers - who had been at the school.

    “We set up in a south‐facing classroom with the half‐built tower visible through the window. Fourteen high schoolers gave me well‐informed answers. They were poised and thoughtful. Four of them aspired

    to be in public service which I attributed to the sense of community created in the wake of 9/11.”

    In 2021, for the 20th anniversary, Florence has again been filming with the young people for her film RIGHT THERE, PART TWO.

Kyle Campbell, American photographer who witnessed the day unfold and years later volunteered to resettle refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I moved to NYC on Sunday, Sept 9th, 2001 to work for Magnum Photos. Monday, Sept 10th was my first day working for the photo agency. I spent that first day in the archives refilling photographs of WWII.

The next morning..  I was getting ready for work. I won't ever forget the first tower being hit. It didn't seem real. Like it shouldn't be happening where I was. After the towers fell, I'd spend the day photographing my way towards what would become known as Ground Zero. At city hall park, dozens of people were building stretchers. As fast as people could cut wood, others were hammering nails into boards. I went with a group on a dump truck filled with stretchers and people to help.. however, we could.

The weeks .. months following .. there are so many moments that are forever etched into my mind's eye.

How have those events changed my life? It changed everything….That day made me realize I don’t know the world I live in.

Beyond my career, I spent my free time working with resettling Iraqi refugees in Dallas and Nashville along with serving in non-profits to help Afghans displaced throughout Europe.

These people were displaced because of wars we started and got involved within their countries…I felt a responsibility to them in some small way.

Twenty years later, watching the scenes unfold in Afghanistan, I’ve felt gutted. Deflated. Angry. Grief and a million other emotions. My entire adult life has somehow been intrinsically connected to the events that began on that day in September. Many of the deep convictions I live by were shaped by what came from the experience and that I have a responsibility in the way I live my life because of it. "

(Courtesy Vincent Archer)

Vincent Archer, firefighter in London.

Vincent was moved by the events of 9/11 and in the years since, has become involved in a run organised by a charity set up the siblings of firefighter Stephen Siller. The event honours Stephen and the other firefighters who died that day.

"Being a firefighter in London the effects of 9/11 impacted me greatly and I felt I needed a way of honouring those that made the ultimate sacrifice. I went to New York on the first anniversary to pay my respects and wanted to do something each year to remember all those that died.

On 9/11 Stephen had finished his shift and was on the way to play golf with his brothers when he heard of the disaster on his scanner. Unable to drive his car through the closed Brooklyn Battery tunnel he strapped on his gear and ran through the tunnel to the towers to help his fellow firefighters to save the lives of those trapped. He sadly died when the towers collapsed.

The first run was in 2002 with 2500 participants and now 20 years later over 30000 runners take part. Many of the runners including myself run in full fire gear replicating what Stephen did that day.

Running is an incredible experience and seeing the firefighters lined up holding banners with the faces of the firefighters, police officers and EMS workers who lost their life on 9/11 is truly inspiring.  The day gives me a greater appreciation of life.  Living in the UK I always tell people about Stephen's story and about the run encouraging fellow firefighters to experience the event by taking part at least once.  

In the photo, these are the faces of the firefighters lined up along the street as you run in the Tunnel to Towers run in New York.”

 

 

Dr Andrew Higgins, American civilian and later Director of Development at IWM

“I was in NYC on the day of the attack.  Was staying with a friend in Greenwich Village not far from the World Trade Centre….My friend turned on the TV and we saw the first tower in flames.  The window of the apartment did not face WTC so we immediately went outside and started walking down towards WTC and could clearly see smoke billowing.  As we were walking down, I saw a plane crash into the second tower - massive fireball - smoke - debris - and yes, I am sad to say as we got closer - before the barricades went up, people jumping from the building.  There were shouts and people were just horrified - no one knew what was happening.  We ducked into a diner where someone had the radio on and they said America was under attack and both the Pentagon and US Capital had been attacked….  There was a lot of confusion and I can still hear the fire engines rushing to get to the site.

The rest of the day was spent in fear, concern for friends and being shown the constant images of the planes going in the tower.  There was a lot of confusion as to what had happened and if more attacks were on the way.  The police presence was palpable.  That night there was a curfew with heavy police presence - we stayed indoors, made sure friends were OK….sadly not all of them were for us.

Next morning i remember people just wandering around in a daze - no subway - no work - and people still trying to make sense of what happened.  That night we ventured down to what now was known as 'Ground Zero' and it was the first time I saw the multitude of pictures of missing people - there was very moving candlelight vigil - and I can remember someone singing Amazing Grace.   In the days the followed there was a real sense of community in the City as people mourned love ones and we tried to make sense, if that was possible, out of what happened.”

(Courtesy John Timberlake)

Artist John Timberlake was in New York on September 11 2001. His photographs of New York taken as he arrived in the city and on 9/11 itself are now held in IWM’s photograph collection.

"On Saturday 8 September 2001, I flew from London Heathrow to Reykjavik, and then on to JFK, landing in the early evening. As was my habit back then, I took my Pentax ME Super into the cabin, loaded with 400 ISO negative film, to take some shots during the flight. I witnessed the 9/11 attacks from the window and the roof of an apartment on East 7th Street, where I was staying with my friend, James. When I fetched my camera, still containing the same film, I realised I’d forgotten to pack my zoom lens. As a result, the photographs I took that Tuesday morning have a particular compositional quality.

Witnessing 9/11 impacted me in diffuse ways: being triggered by particular smells, memories, dreams. The 1990s were the first decade that I entered and left as an adult.

Numerically, of course, the 1990s ended on 31 December 1999, but politically and psychologically, I feel the 1990s really ended on 11 September, 2001. Even at the point where just the North Tower was burning, before the South was hit, I wanted to look away, but it seemed obscene to just stare at the clear blue sky and feel the sunlight, rather than bear witness as people burned or jumped.

Living through trauma brings home to you the fragmented, mediated form of our lives. Unlike media representations, there’s no stopping  it, no jump cut to something else. Time and space are shaped by the event, and it consumes everything. I felt depressed afterwards. I left the film in the fridge, undeveloped, for weeks.

Someone once told me that in recounting my story I was trying to ‘own’ the event. Like others, I want to share, not own. For example, later that afternoon, James and I helped out in Thomas Paine Park, making rudimentary stretchers from wood, cut by construction workers on a nearby site. I recall one of them saying ‘It’s our buildings they took down’.

The stretcher‐making was probably pointless: the daylight was pinkish brown, the sun red and dulled by a thick miasma overhead that was falling out as fine grey powder over the Brooklyn Bridge, over cars, trees and pavements, covering my shoes. All that was left of the dead was on the floor and in the air around us. But that memory of trying to respond collectively amidst all that, even if it was just a gesture, has stayed with me.

I make and teach art for a living. My focus is landscape. I have not consciously tried to make art about 9/11, nor am I so inclined. However, a couple of years ago, giving an artist’s talk, I suddenly became aware of how my work in the years since has repeatedly dealt with two perspectival viewpoints: either a view of clouds on the horizon, or gazing down at an oblique angle, as if from altitude, over a vast area, as in that roll of film."

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