The horrific events of September 11, 2001 are remembered across the globe, but for US citizens and especially New Yorkers, what happened that day remains as pertinent and devastating today as it did exactly 20 years ago.
It seems as though you could ask almost any New York resident where they were on the day of the attacks and they’d instantly be able to recall the situation. For wireless technician Ed van Dood, he was in Huntington, New York at his job in the AT&T switching centre, where he worked as a switch technician.
The centre was where all of the mobile calls went through Long Island and were connected to both Manhattan and White Plains NY, so when the disaster unfolded on 9/11, the switches at the centre all went into alarm.
Ed and his coworkers initially thought there was a problem with the equipment, but after finding no local issues they attempted to call Manhattan to see if they could get through. When they failed, they put on the television and saw the north tower of the World Trade Center on fire.
Baffled, Ed discussed the scene with his co-worker, who flew private planes, and learned the hole in the tower was too big to be a smaller jet.
Recalling what was going through his mind, he said:
This did not register with me [at the time], because there was no way a modern airliner could crash into a tower like that on a clear day. It was at that moment my other coworker John yelled ‘OH MY GOD another plane just hit!’
We looked at the screen and I saw both towers burning. I then felt a rush of anger because I knew then we had a deliberate attack.
The events of 9/11 were caused by militants associated with the extremist group Al-Qaeda, who hijacked four planes and used them to carry out suicide attacks. The chaos Ed recalled watching on television began at 8.45am local time, when an American Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the north tower of New York’s World Trade Center.
A huge, gaping hole was left near the 80th floor of the 110-story building, with the impact instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping hundreds more on higher floors. Less than 20 minutes later, the second Boeing 767 careered into the south tower.
With the phone lines proving unreliable in the wake of the attacks, Ed and his coworkers decided to travel to Manhattan to places known as COWS; cell sites on wheels. Emergency crews needed to be able to communicate, and the team also hoped that in setting up the devices, anyone who was trapped in the wreckage and attempting to use their phones would be able to get through.
Ed, who is now 56 years old, recalled it being ‘very difficult’ getting into Manhattan to assist in the recovery efforts, recalling ‘hundreds of people walking East on the bridge even at 11.00pm.’
After finally making it to Ground Zero, Ed and his coworkers set themselves up at the foot of the Verizon Building, into which beams from the Twin Towers had crashed as they fell.
With the two planes having left gaping holes and burning fires, Ed recalled the entire surrounding area being ‘dense with smoke and ash’. On the scene, he noticed blankets being used to cover bodies of the deceased who were lying in the street.
Looking back, Ed remembers thinking the people who lay lifeless on the ground must have made the horrific decision to jump from the World Trade Center rather than face burning in the fires.
Speaking to UNILAD, the 56-year-old said: ‘One thing that struck me as strange was the way the ash kind of muffled the sound, sort of like what happens after a snowfall. I will always remember that.’
With the efforts to set up the COWS underway, Ed left Ground Zero and travelled to Brooklyn, having volunteered to resolve an issue on that end of the lines.
It wasn’t until the days after the attacks that Ed and much of the rest of the world learned of the scope of the casualties caused by the attacks. Ed’s wife learned of the loss of her cousin, who worked as a trader in an office situated in the World Trade Center above where the planes struck on September 11. Ed said he ‘had no chance of escape’.
The following weeks were slated for endless funerals, with a ‘sea of blue’ everywhere when it came to those honouring the losses of New York police and fire department workers. Ed noted ‘everyone knew someone who died’, though he expressed his amazement that members of his own family who worked for the New York Fire Department were not in the city that day.
A total of 2,977 people lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, which targeted not only the World Trade Center, but also the Pentagon in Washington. The fourth hijacked plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Though Ed played a role in helping people to communicate on the day of the attacks, he described his efforts as ‘an extremely small’ part of what happened. He expressed his pride in the efforts of his coworkers and the response of the rest of New York that day, explaining that in the wake of the horror ‘the country did pull together.’
Thankfully Ed did not experience any physical effects from being at Ground Zero on the day of the attacks, though he knows numerous people who developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer and other ailments from their time spent at the scene.
Many people are living with the physical effects today, while countless others continue to be affected by the wider impacts of 9/11, including the loss of loved ones and the mental impacts of dealing with such trauma. It is for all of these reasons that today, on the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we must remember the events that unfolded and all those who lost, sacrificed and risked their lives.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.