Sunday, September 11, 2011

11 September 2001 - where were you?

It's almost funny how some things haven't changed since that Tuesday morning 10 years ago. Headlines still talk about US Open results and the latest politician sex scandals. Except that today's headlines will be overshadowed by 9/11 stories: What happened, what changed, what will happen, new Al Qaeda threats, analysis about what should have been done, what could have been done, where did we go wrong...

Where were you and what were you doing when you heard about it all? Did you see it unfold live? What where your first thoughts?

We had recently landed in Rome, and after a smooth taxi ride we got into our hotel room. We turned on the TV and started channel surfing. I called my grandmother to let her know I landed safely. My grandma asked me if I had seen New York and the plane and all that. I gently reminded her that I was in Rome, not New York. "No, no, on the television". Just then, the channel surfing showed images of one of the two trade towers with black smoke and flames coming out of it. Funny, I thought, they're showing the same movie here. It took me a few seconds to realize that it wasn't a movie. I told her I'd call her back, and sat on the bed, hypnotised by the screen. It was a little before 3 PM in Rome.

As we watched the images, the black thick smoke coming out, we listened to the narrator explaining that there's more and more fire, I try to comprehend how many people are stuck there.

Then, a black silhouette of a plane charges right at the fire. Everything happened so fast, an explosion, the narrator stopped mid-sentence to find his words which sound something like "Oh my god... a second plane". 3:03 PM. This is now officially no longer an accident.

You couldn't ply me away from that television with a crowbar. I remember saying "If this turns out to be Palestinians, that's it for them, they'll never get anything now". I couldn't be further from the truth. I didn't feel the time go by, just watching those images, and CNN showing again and again the plane that flew into the second tower. Then they start talking about the Pentagon. What? A plane flew into the Pentagon? Total mayhem. Every channel is contradicting everyone else and even itself. A plane! A missile! An explosion! What?

Images, horrible images on television. People jumping from unimaginable heights. Theories already running rampant all over the place. Then that second tower to be hit starts cascading down on itself. Papers flying everywhere. In a matter of seconds, a whole building is gone. Inconceivable.

Reports of a fourth plane, brought down in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. How many more planes are there? The first tower to be hit goes down as well, people on the streets are covered with thick grey dust, running in every which direction. Both buildings completely gone. Where do you even begin with the recovery efforts? How do you assist in a disaster of such magnitude? We stayed glued to the television for a few more hours.

Later that night, we strolled around Via Veneto. The American Embassy was surrounded by Italian soldiers forming a human barrier around the compound. This was just the first of many security measures which would change in the coming years.

A few days later, we learned that the uncle of a family friend was on board flight 11, the first flight to hit the towers. His name was Daniel Lewin, and other than being a brilliant entrepreneur, he was a graduate of Sayeret Matkal, an elite IDF unit. He was the first victim of what was to become the biggest terror attack in history. From various recordings, there is a high degree of certainty that he tried to foil the hijacking, before getting stabbed by a terrorist who was behind him.

The rest is, as they say, history.

Where were you?

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