A humbling 9/11 experience!



In January 2014, I went to the United States travelling through Dublin Airport. If you take this route you have to pass through US Pre-Clearance before you reach your departure gate.

Eric Taube Olsen.

Once you arrive in the USA you simply pass from your arrival gate and move straight to the baggage reclaim area.

Security was an issue that we had to encounter several times that morning; first at the UK Airport, then when we passed through the flight transfers area at Dublin Airport and again finally when we passed through US pre-Clearance.

Vincent Edward Brunton.

On each occasion I had to remove all items from my pockets, my belt and shoes, my watch and remove my computers from my bag. I then had to pass through scanners to ensure that I did not have any metallic items on my body.

Kevin O'Reilly.

At US Pre-Clearance, I was also finger printed and photographed and this was in addition to applying for an ESTA pre-departure and completing my Advanced Passenger Information via the airline's website.

Timothy M Stackpole.

Did I feel safer? Yes on the whole I did.

Was I irritated by the waiting around in the queues for security? Not really.

It did however make me wonder how we got to this situation and whether any of this actually provided air passengers with protection - I suppose the answer to that question has to be on the whole, yes?

You will have noticed that I have so far revealed several names.

On that fateful day on 11th September 2001, our world changed forever, when the United States suffered its worst direct attack since Pearl Harbour.

The names that I have offered above are just some of the 2,996 people who were murdered in the attack on the World Trade Centre on that September morning, whilst they were working or engaged in rescuing their fellow man from the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

There is one name however within the above list who did not die and survived that dreadful day; Kieron (not his real name).

I have been to New York City four times and on three of those occasions I visited the observation deck of the South Tower and marvelled at the views of the world below.

In 2014, on a very cold winters day, as the latest Polar Vortex swept into the City, I visited the the 9/11 Memorial.

When you enter the area where the towers once stood, you first come upon a huge cavernous hole where once the south tower stood. This giant square is bordered in black marble upon which are carved the names of those who perished on that terrible day. The hole offers up the sound of four giant waterfalls which cascade onto the floor below and the waters then run toward the centre which then flows into a smaller square to an unseen depth below.

It is in some ways ironic that the names I have offered in this article are those who were members of the emergency services. They were the first names I saw carved into the South Tower Memorial and they struck a cord with me, as I had once worked as a Police Officer in the UK until I was injured.

The snow that day was falling steadily as we made our way around the square of the south tower and as we walked by the many hundreds of names, I saw people taking photographs of a 'name'; some had left a single white rose wedged into the marble that held that name.

As I had forgotten which tower held the observation deck, I approached a 9/11 guide; this was Kieron.

He confirmed that the South Tower held the observation deck and then my wife asked the question, "Were you here on that day"?

Kieron is a tall man about the same age as me and stood in the snow dressed for the weather except for gloves! When the question was asked, he replied very quietly, "Yes". Even after these relatively short years, the pain was evident and I confess that I found it difficult to hold back my own tears.

We let the silence rest between us making small chat; then we asked him if it was OK to ask him some questions about that day. Kieron smiled and told us that he was happy to do so; this was his job, to stand out in the Memorial, for 4 hours a day, 2 days a week, in all weathers.

Kieron's story is remarkable because it displays the hand of fate. On 11 September, he was on his way to work when he was stopped by a neighbour. That intervention caused him to miss his train into New York City and by the time he arrived at the twin towers, the planes had crashed into both towers.

Kieron lost many friends that day and told of the horror of watching people jump from the towers, because as he told us, nothing, TV or Photographs, could ever represent the full horror of what he saw.

As the towers started to collapse, he like many people on the ground, tried to run for cover. The problem was on that day, at that time, adjacent buildings had locked their doors, so people escaping could not seek secure shelter.

Kieron told us that it was at that moment that he believed that he was going to die; he described how people were piled on each other in doorways to try and escape the dust from the collapsing towers.

Kieron also told of how some 20,000 people were jammed into Lower Manhatten, too frightened to cross the Brooklyn Bridge for fear that the Bridge was going to be attacked. Why did they have this fear? Simply, the news circulating in Manhatten that day was that the White House had been destroyed, Washington DC was under attack, as was Chicago and that 12 other aircraft were heading into Manhatten. The palpable fear of that day is hard for us who were not there to perhaps understand.

Kieron also told us of another remarkable escape, that of a friend in the North Tower, who with firefighters had found themselves in a stairwell which itself had been rebuilt and reinforced after the 1993 attack!

We spoke for a little longer, after which time he put his gloves on. Our conversation ended as it had begun, with reverence, respect and compassion for this lovely man.

We shook hands firmly and commented on our respective Irish heritage and he encouraged us to return one day to visit the new museum being built between the two Memorials; one day we will.

Shortly after I returned to the UK, I related this encounter with several people and told them of the strange beauty and very moving 9/11 Memorial.

I was then told of another story from someone I know which concerns their Father and the Pan-Am Lockerbie attack. Mr J was due to meet some relatives in North America and was scheduled to fly on ill-fated Pan-Am flight. He got to Heathrow Airport early and asked if there were any spare seats on an earlier flight and discovered that there were. The check-in staff transferred him from his scheduled Pan-Am flight to this earlier flight and the rest as they say is history.

I want the reader to understand that it appears that fate can intervene with our travel plans with a shocking brutality.

These observations are not meant to provide comment upon or justify or condemn the actions post 9/11, but they do condemn those who carred out these horrific attacks on ordinary working men, women and children.

Holidaymakers from the UK have been subjected to attacks in Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia and again the theme is an attack on innocent civilians.

Those who carry out such attacks cite other injustices as the justification for their actions; if they have just cause for complaint, then using these methods to attack ordinary citizens can never be justified.

Kieron's story certainly doesn't alter my questions about airport security but it does strengthen my tolerance for its process. I would say to any holidaymaker churlish enough to criticise an airport security process, to reflect on the experiences I have revealed and consider that it is sadly the consequence of criminal actions and the troubled world we live in.

Tags: 9/11 11 September 2001 World Trade Centre New York City Terrorism 9/11 Memorial Airport Security

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