The terrorist attacks on America on 11 September 2001 killed more than 3,000 people. The events had a huge global impact, leading to the conflict in Afghanistan, to the ‘War on Terror’ and the eventual invasion of Iraq.
At a more personal level, the attacks on 9/11 had a profound impact on many people’s lives, shaping the direction that their lives took from this point on. From those who witnessed and reported on the events in New York or who later became caught up in the conflict in Afghanistan that followed, here are some of their memories of 9/11.
In 2001, Suzanne Plunkett was working as a photojournalist with AP.
After seeing television reports of the attack on the first tower, Suzanne headed out towards the World Trade Center. In the clip below, she describes arriving at the scene just before the towers collapsed and her reactions as one of them fell.
Suzanne's photos of that moment would be seen around the world.
A few months later, in early 2002, she travelled to Afghanistan to report on the country after the US-led international invasion.
“I’ve got to do my job”
“Looked up and started running across the street, across Church Street, to try to get to the scene and looking up all the time and seeing the tower and saying “I’ve got to get closer, I’ve got to get closer”, arguing with the police officer and showing I had a press badge that would kind of let you cross police lines and telling him “I’ve got to do my job” and finally someone yelled “it’s coming down, run for your life”. So then I just started running in the other direction but then thought “oh, I need to take a picture of this” and swung around and shot sort of 20 frames of people running towards me and then I turned around and ran. I remember thinking I’ve got to get the picture of the smoke – it was kind of like I just became this robot...then yeah, I turned around and started running, didn’t know where to go, sort of thought that the tower might just kind of fall as if it was a tree in the forest and thought I can’t outrun 110 storeys so I crawled under a car and then – I kind of kept doing these things and then changing my mind. […] Just as the cloud of dust came by, I was outside again taking pictures and it was as if….it was really quiet – all you could hear was the rumbling of the building kind of settling and kind of things breaking but it was still this kind of unnatural quiet and people were just kind of walking past me confused. And I just remember thinking ‘nobody has enough emotion, people need to be…’ you know? But people really were just in shock, as I was as well.”
In 2001, Jamie Weaver was serving as a signals specialist in the Royal Marines.
He was at his base in Scotland when he heard about the terrorist attacks on New York.
Within 6 months he had deployed to Afghanistan with 45 Commando and went on to serve in Helmand on three Operation Herrick deployments.
Here he recalls seeing the events unfold on television and reflects on how his life was changed by the military response to the attacks.
"We said it must have been an accident"
“Yeah, so I remember being in the 6 troop up in the hanger at 45 [Commando] up at Condor Barracks. And one of the sergeants came in saying ‘oh, there’s… a plane had flown into the twin towers’ and we were like ‘it must have been an accident’. They allowed us to go up to our room to watch it and I can remember it really well as I was doing my ironing, getting my rig ready for the following week and the second plane hit and then obviously not long after they then collapsed. Little did I know then, that one incident would completely and utterly re-write what was meant for me in the next ten years in the Royal Marines.”
Z worked as an interpreter with both American and British forces in Afghanistan until he was blown up by an IED, losing both of his legs.
He now lives with his wife and family in the UK.
In September 2001, Z was living with family in Pakistan and studying.
Here he recalls hearing of the attacks on 9/11 and his hopes for what the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan might mean for the country’s future.
"Rebuild the country"
“I was in Peshawar, I still remember that, we were listening to news, like what did Americans want from Taliban’s government, like to hand over Osama Bin Laden to America. The final, the last words that I remember from Mullah Omar himself, the Taliban’s president, when he rejected that ultimatum saying we are not going to hand over Osama Bin Laden … once the fight had begun then we [the] Afghan people had really high hope, we were very much happy that okay now, that we could return back to our country, get Afghanistan back. I do remember that and my father like and other elders, they were saying it is going to be a great opportunity and chance for the Afghan people because they would rebuild the country.”
In 2001, Charles Fuller was a pilot with the Fleet Air Arm carrying out search and rescue operations in and around the UK.
Here he recalls hearing news of the attacks on 9/11.
Charles did not realise at the time how much the events of that day would impact his life - he subsequently served in both Afghanistan and in the Iraq War.
"I was one of the only aircraft allowed to fly in UK airspace"
“On 9/11 I was just coming off duty, search and rescue, so I actually - we had done a night job, so I was quite tired and fell asleep on the sofa and woke up to see the second aircraft going in on the news and that was quite spooky because I hadn’t had the build up to it, as I suppose most people didn’t, because they weren’t there when the first bit of news came in and it was playing catch up with a baggy head, thinking this is all a bit strange. But the interesting thing for me was the next day - I was flying search and rescue, so I was one of the only aircraft allowed to fly in UK airspace and that is quite weird, when you’re only one of probably the best part of 12 aircraft flying in the whole of UK airspace. Very quiet, absolute dead airfield.”
Karen Pierce is a British diplomat who has worked as the Head of the Afghanistan Political Military Unit and is a former UK Ambassador to Afghanistan.
In 2001, she was a civil servant with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office based in London.
"On 9/11 I was coming back from an official event and I remember hearing on the bus that there had been this attack and at first everybody thought this was a passenger plane by accident that had flown into the twin towers and then you heard the awful reports of all the other planes that had gone down or hit things, it became apparent it was an attack and I remember everybody being incredibly worried about the significance of that, the scale, about the poor people in New York."
"I was in the European department for the Foreign Office but I volunteered to go and help the emergency and at first I went into the consular side - so we were trying to put together a package of help for relatives of people who had lost their lives or suspected to have lost their lives in New York.... get the relatives there so they could see for themselves what had happened and to look after Brits in America on the East Coast and to look after our own staff, particularly in New York."
"It is always worth remembering that the Taliban were given that chance to join with the international community in condemning Al-Qaeda and they deliberately chose not to take that route."
"So at the start this was not about the Taliban and Afghanistan, it was all about Al-Qaeda but by allowing Al-Qaeda to launch the New York attacks, basically conceived on Afghan soil, the Taliban put themselves on the Al-Qaeda side."
David editing a report in Helmand, Afghanistan. Courtesy David Loyn
In 2001, David Loyn was working at the BBC as a foreign correspondent. On 11 September he was in BBC Television Centre in London when first reports of the attacks came in.
He went on the rolling news channel BBC News 24 to report on the unfolding events before being asked to put together the lead report for the Six O'Clock News.
"The editor of BBC News came down and said don’t over write it- [it] was good advice, but there was one line that was bit more florid: 'it came out of clear blue sky on a fall morning in New York' - which is what it felt like, it was an incredibly clear blue day."
The piece was the longest ever lead on the Six O'Clock News.
In the days that followed, he continued to cover the story for the 6 O'Clock News and in early 2002, he travelled to Afghanistan to report on the invasion of the country.
In 1999, Kate Clark was posted to Kabul as the BBC’s Afghanistan correspondent and was the only western journalist based in the country. She was expelled by the Taliban in early 2001.
She heard about the attacks when she was staying with a friend in Pakistan and her thoughts immediately turned to what the repercussions might be for Afghanistan.
"[My friend] Dawn and I were listening to the news and we heard what had happened and I think she said that’s it for Bin Laden and I said that’s it for the Taliban. So that was our immediate reaction."
Following the invasion, Kate was able to return to Afghanistan and report on the subsequent conflict.