Brits remember the loved ones they lost 20 years after the horror of 9/11
THE world watched in horror 20 years ago as al-Qaeda terrorists flew planes into New York’s twin towers.
Nearly 3,000 people – including 67 Brits – were killed in the 9/11 attacks, which also crashed hijacked flights into the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
As we approach next Saturday’s anniversary, two men who lost relatives and one woman who escaped remember that devastating day.
- Find out more at since911.com.
Executive assistant, 84th floor, South Tower
JANICE was 41 when she got her dream transfer from London to New York with her finance firm, Euro Brokers.
Janice, who now lives in Norfolk, touched down on August 23, 2001, with just her Yorkshire terrier, Sidney, and a suitcase. Less than three weeks later her life changed for ever.
"THE morning of September 11 started like any other — a beautiful, clear blue sky and an early start in my office on the 84th floor of the South Tower.
"Some of my colleagues heard a noise around 8.46am, but it was a call from someone in London that made me realise what was going on.
"He’d watched the plane crash into the North Tower on TV and was shouting expletives, telling me to get out. I grabbed my bag and ran through the dealing floor.
"With thousands of us trying to get out at the same time, a public announcement system told us to return to our offices. There was no indication at this point that another strike was on the way, and the plaza outside was being used as a triage centre for those evacuated from the North Tower.
"So we were actually heading back up to our office when the plane hit our building. Six of us from Euro Brokers were in a corridor between stairwells when we heard the dull thud. The lights flickered, ceiling panels fell on us, with dust and debris everywhere.
"I stumbled back against a wall then heard a blood-curdling scream and banging from the other side of a door.
Miraculously, we found a hidden door, which opened on to another staircase, and we started to make our way down.
"A guy in a white shirt finally managed to pull it open and we saw her — a woman covered in blood, with a massive cut on her arm exposing her bone. There were others too, covered in blood and glass.
"We tried to go back the way we’d come but the stairs had vanished — it was just blackness and flames.
"Miraculously, we found a hidden door, which opened on to another staircase, and we started to make our way down. With coughing and crying coming from every direction, there was debris everywhere — and the poor woman with the injured arm.
"From what I could see, she had lost part of her left foot, too. I could feel her blood under my feet as I’d taken my heels off.
"We saw firemen rush up past us. Then, with around ten floors to go, the man — whose name I later learned was Bob — put the injured woman on his shoulders to carry her down when she couldn’t carry on.
"We got to the lobby around 9.43am — it had taken us almost an hour.
‘I couldn’t escape’
"I finally got to my 17th-floor apartment less than half a mile away. Calling our HR manager, Eileen, for advice, I then heard a low boom, and looking out my window saw the South Tower collapse, followed shortly by the North Tower.
"My dishes and windows were rattling. The whole world felt like it was over, then everything went dark. I sat on my sofa rocking backwards and forwards, thinking I was about to die. I left my apartment at about 5pm to head to Eileen’s place in Queens. I finally knocked on her door three hours later.
"I was still wearing my blood-soaked work shirt, stumbling around. Without my compass point of the Two Towers, I felt lost. The strangest thing was how eerily quiet it was — this was the noisiest city in the world but there wasn’t even bird song.
"Eileen told me that 80 of our staff were unaccounted for, so we agreed the next morning to go to the help desk in midtown Manhattan. By the time we arrived, that number had gone down to 60. We stayed there all day and night, taking heartbreaking calls from relatives trying to find out if their loved ones had been found. But in most cases there was nothing we could say.
"I stayed working on that help desk for three weeks, each day as painful and heartbreaking as the one before. Euro Brokers later found a new office less than a mile away from Ground Zero, where I worked for the next five years before the firm was sold, and I returned to the UK.
"I just couldn’t escape what I’d experienced that day, and knew this made sense — to finally move on. Since then I regularly go into UK schools representing the charity Since 9/11, talking about my experience.
"Children in school today were not yet born when the attacks took place, and it’s vital that they learn about the attack and its ongoing impact.
"I’m simply an East End girl, and all I did that day was go to work. If something like this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone."
Student. His father was on the 105th floor, South Tower
JONATHAN was 18 and in his first year at college in Los Angeles when he was woken with the news that his father, Michael, had lost his life in the 9/11 attacks. Michael, from Hull, managing director of insurance giant Aon, was in his office in the South Tower.
His elder sister Christine was visiting New York and dropped by her brother’s office when the planes struck. Now dad to ten-week-old Dean Michael – named after his grandfather – Jonathan lives in New York with wife Audrey, 34, and like his father works in insurance.
"IT was about 5.30am when I got woken by the resident director at my college, and my first thought was I must be in big trouble. I was taken downstairs and saw all my roommates huddled around the TV, saying, “Have you seen what’s happened to your city?”
"I knew then that my life and the world as we knew it would never be the same again. I had no idea if my dad had been affected, but when I got on the phone with Mum, she simply said: “Dad’s gone.”
"She’d been on the phone with him when his tower went down, so there was no doubt, which I actually see as a blessing — we could have had days and days of doubt.
"He might have died a horrifically slow and painful death, and I’d have spent every minute of every day digging through the dirt and debris trying to find him.
"Mum told me he’d been trying to get to the roof of his tower in the hope that a helicopter could pick him and some colleagues up, but they couldn’t open the door.
"He managed to get my aunt Christine into an elevator down to the lobby, where we heard accounts of her trying to help others — she was a trained nurse and always put other people first. Dad was the fire warden for his floor, so when the port authority security told everyone to stay in their office after the first tower was hit, he told them to bugger off and forced many of his employees into elevators or stairwells to get out, which saved many lives. That was him to a tee, always putting others first.
‘A hole in my heart’
"My dad was a self-made man who came from very humble beginnings in Hull. He was witty, charming and made difficult situations easy. Although I didn’t get to see as much of him as I’d have liked because he travelled a lot with work, I idolised him, and losing him ripped a hole in my heart.
"All flights were grounded after the attacks, so getting to New York took me several flights and about three days, which was horrible — wanting to be with my mum and my younger brother, Matthew, who has Down’s syndrome.
"Ironically, Dad had spoken about the possibility of terrorist attacks before, and had even written letters to his management saying their office in the South Tower wasn’t safe. Again, he was right. Mum was in pieces when I finally got to hug her, which was very uncharacteristic for a strong Sicilian woman. Dad’s last words to her were: “I love you” — with screams all around him.
"Over the coming days, we visited the site where the towers had been. For weeks afterwards you could see the smoke from as far away as Connecticut, with desperate, exhausted families clinging on to some hope that their loved ones might be found. But one of my lasting memories of that time is how New Yorkers wouldn’t let this beat them.
"It made me so proud, and I vowed I’d come back to live here and follow in Dad’s footsteps. We had a service for them in a pub, which was obviously very emotional. I broke down on the way home when I heard the song Imagine by John Lennon playing, one of dad’s favourite musicians.
"Since then, I’ve channelled the positivity of my dad and New Yorkers to make the world a better place. Dad’s favourite lyric was “Take a sad song and make it better”, which is my mantra.
‘Pay my respects’
"I’ve volunteered for several amazing charities, including Since 9/11. It educates the kids of the future to stop the Islamophobia, which was the root cause of this.
"There’s also a memorial stone in Hull, which I visit every time I’m in the UK, to pay my respects.
"Dad always said he wanted to be buried in his home town, but of course his body was never found.
"I’ll be in the UK this 9/11 to give a talk to Since 9/11, and I’ll be in Hull too, remembering what a great guy Dad was, and how lucky I was to have known him.
His brother GEOFF was on the 106th floor, North Tower
GEOFF CAMPBELL was attending a conference in the North Tower on September 11 when it was struck by an aircraft at 8.46am. The 31-year-old risk management specialist, from Northampton, worked for Reuters and had lived in New York for two years.
Just three weeks earlier, he and girlfriend Caroline had got engaged. Geoff’s older brother Matt, 52, who lives in West Sussex, recalls the terrible day he first heard news of the 9/11 attacks.
"I WAS on holiday in Lanzarote with my wife Mel and our two young girls Esme, then two, and Phoebe, six months, when we heard about the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. We’d been on the beach and Mel had wandered up to some local cafes with Phoebe, where she’d seen crowds huddled around TVs, showing the startling scenes.
"Our dad, Malcolm, was in Wales climbing mountains, but our mum, Maureen, had flown out to be with us, and while I wasn’t too concerned at first, I used a payphone to make some calls to check. Eventually I got hold of Rob, our younger brother, who was back in the UK and had spoken with Caroline.
"It was the news we’d all feared — Geoff had been in one of those buildings.
I dropped the receiver on the ground in shock before doing my best to explain the news to my family. We read a report in The Sun about how people were turning up unconscious in nearby hospitals.
"With no confirmation of Geoff’s death and no body found, we had to stay positive. Reuters flew us out to New York four days later and we were driven to check at hospitals. But after visiting a few wards then going to Ground Zero, we soon realised we would never see Geoff again. He was gone.
"Meeting his friends there, it reinforced what an easy-going, warm person he was and how he had such a bright future.
"My memory of those days and weeks is fairly hazy, but I do remember going to the big church service in New York for British families who had lost a loved one, where we met Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
It’s very poignant that this 20th anniversary coincides with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, highlighting the pointless loss of life.
"The former US president gave Rob a massive hug, which meant a lot, although the feelings of grief and despair were overwhelming. Back in the UK on September 30, we had a memorial service in the same church where Mel and I had got married.
"We wanted it to be a celebration of Geoff’s life, with champagne flowing and lots of laughter. It’s what he would’ve wanted.
"The church was over-flowing with people wanting to pay their respects, a fitting tribute to an incredible man.
"In 2002 the first remains of Geoff’s body were found, a collarbone which he’d broken as a toddler. Mum was notified about this the day before her birthday, and saw it as a sign that her little boy had finally come home.
"His remains stayed in my home, in a casket, until 2004 when more of his remains were found, which we buried in a graveyard in a nearby village.
"In 2008 yet more of Geoff’s remains were found and repatriated to us, which we added to his plot — but still we had just three per cent of him home with us.
"Mum made the express wish that when she dies, she wants to be buried with Geoff, which speaks volumes.
"After an inquest in 2013, the final set of remains were found, which we’ve chosen to leave in New York so Caroline can visit them — she still hasn’t visited Ground Zero. It’s been hard for her.
"The effects of that day 20 years ago are still very much with us, and have ripped a hole in all our lives, which will never fade. An illegal war on terror in Afghanistan and then Iraq was waged after the 9/11 attacks, which resulted in thousands more needless deaths.
"It’s very poignant that this 20th anniversary coincides with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, highlighting the pointless loss of life.
"My family and I have submitted a 3,000-page application to the British Attorney General to reopen the inquest into how Geoff died — we strongly believe explosives were used to collapse those towers.
"We’re not conspiracy theorists. Like the families affected by the Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday atrocities, we just need to know the truth even after all these years."
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