On this day twenty years ago, the world was shaken by unprecedented terrorist attacks that would forever leave an imprint of sorrow and grief on the lives of the survivors, witnesses, and those who lost their loved ones, in the tragedy that would be known as 9/11.
On September 11, 2001, terrorists from Al Qaeda (banned in Russia) seized four passenger planes, crashing two of them into the World Trade Center in New York and another into the Pentagon. The fourth jet came down in a field in Pennsylvania after being initially directed toward Washington.
The attacks happened in the early morning on a Tuesday. At 8:46 a.m. local time (15:45 GMT), an American Airlines (AA) Boeing 767 with 81 passengers and 11 crew members on board en route from Boston to Los Angeles crashed into the North Tower of the WTC in Manhattan between the 93rd and 99th floors. At 9:03 a.m., a United Airlines (UA)-operated Boeing 767 with 56 passengers, including five terrorists and nine crew members, en route from Boston to Los Angeles crashed into the South Tower between the 77th and 85th floors.
About thirty minutes later, at 9:37 a.m., an AA-operated Boeing 757 with 58 passengers, including five terrorists and six crew members on board, en route from Washington to Los Angeles, crashed into the Pentagon. And at 10:03 a.m., a UA-operated Boeing 757 with 37 passengers, including four terrorists, and seven crew members, en route from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco crashed in a field in southwestern Pennsylvania outside Shanksville, 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Washington.
Reports of the 9/11 attacks came as a shock to millions of people across the world, including those who were at that time in the air, like Alexander Shedrinsky, a Long Island University professor and consultant at the New York Museum of Modern Art. News of the attack found Shedrinsky above Greenland, when a stewardess asked if anyone could translate from English to Russian. Shedrinsky volunteered to translate a message from the pilot, who relayed the news to the passengers.
“And having translated all that text, I suddenly realized what exactly I was translating. That was something,” Shedrinsky told Sputnik, adding that hysteria took over the plane as “people started bawling because, as it turned out, many had had someone who worked in those towers.”
Shedrinsky noted the quick response by the stewardesses, who rolled carts with alcohol through the aisles, offering people a drink to calm them down.
“And I, not a drinker, said that I would like cognac when they rolled the cart to me. When they asked how much, I said — up to the brim. The pilot said that we were turning back, [that] the US airspace was shut down,” Shedrinsky added.
The professor was able to get to New York City, where he had a wife and a child, only on September 30, a month after the tragedy.
A WAVE WAS SWEEPING EVERYTHING
A more devastating picture was seen by those who were in the proximity of the tragedy, such as Dmitry Lisovetsky, who was working near the site. He explained that he was about three kilometers away from the Twin Towers.
“We noticed that planes were flying and crashing into the towers, the first one, then the second. Nobody understood anything,” he told Sputnik.
He recalled a cloud of dust, like after a huge explosion, and saw police officers who were all white from the dust carpeting the scene. He immediately got into his car and started to leave. He saw many running away as the panic spread.
“The wave swept away everything in its path, we ran away, it was approaching,” he recalled.
I HOPED MY DAUGHTER HAD TIME TO ESCAPE
Nearly 3,000 people from 90 countries lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. In September 2006, President George W. Bush said the damage amounted to at least $500 billion, but the exact number is unknown. September 11 is a day of personal tragedy for Roman, a Russian native of New York. He lost his daughter during the attacks on the Twin Towers.
“It was a normal working day. I was sitting in the office and my wife called. She said that our daughter did not call at the usual time and it worried her. She called her every day,” he told Sputnik.
Roman quickly found out what happened, as he was working not far from the Twin Towers. When he looked out the window, the blood froze in his veins.
“I ran, went in the direction of Manhattan, I called my wife, I called my daughter. I continued to walked there and prayed to God that she was not there,” he recalled.
But police did not let him enter the area.
“I just sat down, people walked by, gave me water. I was sure that no one would come out of there. Yet, I hoped that my daughter had time to escape, maybe she was on the lower floors,” he said.
He and his wife searched hospitals to find their daughter but their attempts were in vain. They never found her.
Together with Russian-speaking New Yorkers who lost their loved ones in the tragedy, he became a part of the September 11 family. He and his wife planted a weeping willow in Asser Levy Park to pay tribute to their daughter.
In 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, the authorities founded the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the site of the destroyed Twin Towers in New York. The memorial is a park with more than 400 white oak trees that surround two pools with waterfalls. The names of almost 3,000 victims of the attacks are inscribed on bronze parapets surrounding the twin Memorial pools.
In 2002, September 11 was dubbed Patriot Day in the United States. Since 2009, following the approval of Act 111-13 of US General Law, this date has been referred to as the National Day of Service and Remembrance.
IT WAS TOTAL MAYHEM
Long-term effects of the 9/11 tragedy are still felt by the survivors, even among those who were living in New York but were not directly present at the site of the attacks. About 400,000 people were exposed to toxic dust. John Mormando, who worked as a trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange, which was located only a few blocks from the World Trade Center, was one of them.
When the towers came down, he was at home. However, he was sent back to work five or six days later.
“We went back to work in the middle of a war zone with buildings on fire and still and smoke everywhere. And you know, it was total mayhem down there, but we had open up because we were commodities and they needed to open it up. So we went back to work. And the EPA [the Environmental Protection Agency] , you know, said that all the tests were done and the air quality was good, but unfortunately they were wrong or something happened because a lot of people got sick from being down there, including myself,” he told Sputnik.
Seventeen years later, Mormando was diagnosed with male breast cancer. He went into remission in 2019, and in 2020 he battled COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, I had to go to the hospital and I was in pretty bad shape for about a couple of weeks and then I got over that. And then this year, I was able to continue my journey to do an Ironman and I just completed it in Lake Placid, New York. I completed an Ironman triathlon,” he said.
For the wife of Earl Rasmussen, Eurasia Center Vice President, September might have been fatal, as she was usually working in Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia, about two miles from the Pentagon. However, the meeting on Tuesday was rescheduled.
“As I recall, she was supposed to have a meeting that morning in the Pentagon with the Army budget office. Due to scheduling conflicts, the meeting with the director of the budget office was rescheduled at the last minute from the Pentagon to her office in Arlington,” he told Sputnik.
She didn’t go, and as it turned out, this rescheduled meeting saved her live.
“Almost the entire Army Budget Office staff would have been killed that day as the aircraft crashed directly into the side of the Pentagon where they were located,” he said.
AN INTERNATIONAL THING
A retired detective of the Arson and Explosion Squad, Bill Ryan, who was working on site during the 9/11 tragedy, recalled that on the day it happened they didn’t get any answers about what had occurred. Ryan worked in the World Trade Center during the 1993 bombing. In that incident, a truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower, killing six and injuring about a thousand.
“When I worked on the 1993 bombing, I spent so much time in the Trade Center that I made friendships with a lot of people who worked there…. And everyone that I knew died. It is terribly sad,” Ryan admitted, speaking to Sputnik.
Yet he said that there were no similarities between the 9/11 attacks and the one in 1993.
“[in 1993] There was a structural damage but it was inside. In 27 days, it was over, we finished investigation, made arrests. It was very quick; the city went back to normal. With 9/11 I don’t think it will ever get back to normal again…. It was an international thing,” he added.
In 2002, an independent commission to investigate the September 11 attacks (9/11 Commission) was created in the United States. In 2004, the commission issued a final report on the circumstances of the tragedy. One of the main findings of the 600-page document was the recognition that the perpetrators took advantage of “deep administrative failures” in the US government.
American families of victims of the September 11 attacks have long pushed the US government to declassify information related to the ties Saudi Arabia may have had to the terrorists who carried out the attacks.
Earlier in September, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order initiating an interagency review to possibly declassify certain documents related to the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States within six months. Biden said in a copy of the executive order that information related to the September 11 attacks should not remain classified when the public interest outweighs any damage to national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure of the classified documents.