My 9/11

The morning of September 11, 2001 was nice and sunny. I decided to carry a camera with me on that day and possibly take a few photographs in downtown Manhattan before going to work. Like every day before, I crossed the Hudson River by ferry and arrived to the World Trade Center area. I walked to work, enjoying the great morning. Suddenly, when I was just across the street from the WTC towers I heard an explosion.

The whole area around me was covered with debris. I noticed a car that was hit and had two flat tires, but the driver did not want to stop. Other car was burning in the surrounding area. When I looked above at 1 WTC I saw smoke. Like in everyone's mind at this moment I had the simple explanation: unlucky pilot, a small plane, possibly a Cessna hit the tower. Immediately I stared to take pictures to document the accident. I was running with my camera from one place to another trying to get the best perspective. After taking a series of pictures I slowed down and looked around me. I discovered that the street was covered not only by debris. I noticed shoes and other passengers’ belongings, wires and electrical equipment probably from the airplane. Human flash was everywhere. Standing in the middle of the street, right at the entrance to the Tower Two I was beginning to understand what a tragedy took place here. It could not have been a small plane.

At this moment I heard a sound above and raised my head. No! This is not happening. A big passenger jet was right above me. In a blink of an eye, a fraction of second later an airplane disappeared inside the second WTC tower. I was standing at the base of the building that was the target of terrorist attack. There was no place take cover. It was too late to run away. All I could do was just to cover my head with my bare hands and wait for a miracle. Parts of the building and from the airplane were falling on the street around me. I was too scared to look up at the explosion above me. After the debris had finished falling right above me, I quickly set out to leave the area.

I went to a nearby office building where I worked at that time. The building was on Broadway about 2 minutes walking distance from the towers. Once inside the building, I quickly entered the elevator. When I got to my office I realized that I was the only one on the floor. The building was evacuated. I reached the phone and called my wife Ewa. I was sure at the moment that the worst has already happened and there was no need to leave my building. My wife was watching news and she insisted that I should leave the dangerous area as quickly as possible. I agreed. On my way downstairs I heard something like the explosion and felt the shake of my building. It was like during the earthquake. I had no idea what caused this. When I got to the ground floor I saw a group of scared people covered in gray ash. 'What happened?' was my first question. Nobody really knew. Somebody told me that the explosion was from the third plane that hit the ground. Actually it was the moment when the 2 WTC collapsed, but I did not know about it. It was completely dark outside. I could not see the towers. Everything was covered in dust. I went to the street and came back into the building as quickly as possible. The dust was so dense that there was no air to breathe. All I could do at this moment was wait.

When dust fell on the ground and the sky showed up again I left the building. The streets were like they were covered in snow. I went one block when I heard another explosion. It sounded like a bomb. I was not sure what to do and which direction to escape. I looked around. Then, I saw a huge cloud of smoke heading in my direction and a man running in front of it. I started to run too. The cloud was faster and quickly covered me. I was willing to lose this race, but I could not breathe inside this cloud. The only way to survive was to run away. I ran faster and faster. Probably the smoke slowed down and finally I was in front of it. I saw a man waving in my direction and showing a place to hide. I jumped quickly into a nearby store and a man sealed the door. I was covered in ash, so was everything outside. Later I learned that it was the collapse of second tower.

It took me another few hours to reach my home. Later in my clothing I found pieces of glass from WTC’s windows that fell on me when airplane exploded above my head.

Text: Maciej Swulinski