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September 11, 2001 Church Street, NYC

September 11, 2013

Vickery Eckhoff

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99 Church Street entrance. I stood here and watched people jump from the North Tower.

Twelve years ago, at  8:46 AM, I was  walking down Church Street to my freelance job at Moody’s Investors Service, one block north of the World Trade Center,  when the sound of a low-flying plane caught my attention.

It was over the West Side Highway when I noticed it, and I wondered “who’s buzzing the city at this hour?” Several seconds later, it was close enough for me to notice an American Airlines logo on the tail. Instinctively, I knew that a passenger plane did not belong in that air space.

I watched a few more seconds as it lined up with the World Trade Center. As it kept getting closer, I thought, now why doesn’t that pilot turn? And before I knew it, I was saying, “turn. Turn! TURN!!!”

The plane cocked its wings to the right and hit the building. There was a fireball, and then I saw papers blow out of the building into the air. I do not remember the sound.

I was yelling and the half dozen other people on the street were yelling “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”

I contemplated returning home, but thought, “no, it’s an accident,” so I kept walking to work.

By the time I got to Moody’s, eight blocks south, a crowd had gathered in the entrance at 99 Church. Now, I was staring up at the North tower. I’d never looked at it from that perspective before. In fact, the previous day, I’d enjoyed lunch outside in the plaza. It was my new favorite lunch spot: open and breezy. Clear blue skies. Warm. Perfect.

On September 11, I looked up to see people leaning out the windows high in the north tower. Within minutes, someone in the crowd screamed and I glimpsed stick figures falling. They were so small, just tumbling through the air. I considered for a moment that here I was safe on the ground, and yet I could see people leaning out the upper windows of the tower and they weren’t safe.  I’m afraid of heights and could not imagine anyone staring out those windows, hanging out those windows, jumping. It was incomprehensible how close their terror was to my safe spot, there on the street.

We could see each other. I still can’t get over that.

I heard a woman next to me say that it was a terrorist attack, and I thought, no. Had to have been an accident. Almost instantaneously, a fireball blew out the side of the south tower. I’d seen the first plane hit from Church and Franklin, but the south tower now loomed directly overhead.

I recall seeing steel beams blow out of the side of the building like a spray of water. (I later learned that debris from the attack had landed on Moody’s roof, making a hole in it.) People screamed and ran. I drew back into the doorway of the building. I expected to see planes flying in next, dropping bombs. I waited a few moments until the crowd had dispersed  and started walking. I never looked back.

Where was my sister, Karen? She worked at WTC, for U.S. Customs. Was she in one of those towers?

I headed uptown and people were in a daze. I saw shoes abandoned on the sidewalk, like a war zone. Further north, I saw a toddler walking  and said to her mother, “put your baby in the stroller and get the hell out of here.”

She swore at me.

Sometime, further north, I tripped over a curb and fell. People kindly helped me up. I limped home, still not looking behind me. I kept calling my sister Karen’s cellphone. She did not answer.

I walked a jagged course uptown. Along Broadway, taxicabs were pulled over to the side of the street, radios broadcasting the news, people gathered around.

I reached my home on Tenth Street, I don’t recall the time, and called Karen again. Finally she picked up. She’d been working in one of the smaller towers and was safely home. It was only then that I turned on the news and saw the towers had fallen. I suddenly realized that they were falling as I walked home. I could have turned and watched, but I was unaware.

It was a monstrous, strange thought. I changed my shoes and walked the three blocks down to Washington Square. I walked to the south side of the park, and looked right down Laguardia Place, to where the towers were always visible and saw they were gone.

Only then, I cried.

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7 Comments

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  1. September 11, 2013

    I was in the last group of people to make it up those long Escalators and heard the first Plane. It sounded like a truck backfiring because it was so high up. I worked on John Street so I went to work and said ‘I think something happened at the Trade Center. We turned the TV on and watched until the screen went blank. My late father was a supplier to the construction of the WTC, he supplied the Plumbing. Dad died in 1991 and I was glad he was not here to see it. He was always impressed by the Construction of the Twin Towers and he tried to get me to understand that they floated on Pontoons to absorb the sway caused by the wind.

    I lost my assistant as he was in the North Tower and he did not make it out. I lost 2 neighbors and they were both Japanese and one of them had a wife here who returned to Japan. She said ‘I hate this goddamn country!’ I tried to explain it was not the US that did this, it was a terrorist attack. She had lost her husband and never forgave America for killing her husband.

    I am lucky to be alive. Of course the job was gone as all the clients were in the Trade Center. Tonight if there is not too much ambient light, I will look out my living room windows and look at the Light Memorial. I will never forget this day, or the lives of those I knew personally, and all the other lives that were lost in NYC, PA, and at the Pentagon.

    Ellen

  2. September 11, 2013

    Ellen, thank you for your profound remembrance of those lost. Truly harrowing and very moving.

    • September 11, 2013

      It was a nightmare as you recall, we had to wait to be evacuated and we took the Staten Island Ferry to NJ. We waited hours for Busses to arrive to take us into Hoboken. I went back when the fire was still burning and I had soot from that fire on the walls of my Condo. It would not come off no matter how hard I tried to clean it. My Mom who can clean anything said ‘What is this?’ I told her point blank, the remains of dead people from the WTC.

      It was something that could have been avoided and the advice to prepare for that which was to come was ignored by Bush. I know as I have a relative whom is in a high level security job.

      • September 11, 2013

        Wow.

        I recall, myself, smelling smoke from the burning towers and initially thinking one of my neighbors was cooking bacon. I quickly realized my error and shut my windows.

      • September 11, 2013

        I knew exactly what it was because even though they boarded up the area from the surrounding streets there was still access via Church Street. I was asked by a friend to take me there but I refused to do so. I said ‘you never went there when it was still standing and I am not going to take you there to view the remains.’ I did not need such a friend anyway.

  3. Mark #
    September 11, 2014

    I just came across your entry as I was googling Church Street and 9/11. I worked at 100 Church and was probably standing across the street from you. Of all the things that I can’t forget, it was those people jumping from the window that affect me the most. Peace to you .

    • September 11, 2014

      Thank you so much, Mark, for writing. Yes, the sight of people jumping will never be forgotten. Peace to you, and hugs to all on this solemn day of remembrance.

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