An Eye Witness Account

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I didn't watch, I didn't see it hit. I just ran.

- Australian economist Rory Robertson was on the ground floor of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. He emailed this first-hand account to friends in Wellington, New Zealand

Like many others, I was way too close to the action. I am pretty shaken, though have not even a scratch.

At about 3.45am (NZ time), we were on the ground floor of the World Trade Center Marriot [hotel] listening to the breakfast speaker at an economics conference when what turned out to be the first hijacked plane hit our tower.

There was a bit of a bang and the building shook. We all looked at each other across the table, wondering. Earthquake? Presumably everyone else was also thinking about the 110 floors above us. Then the building shook again. Everyone ran for the door and then the foyer. The move was reasonably orderly. I noticed dust and smoke coming from one lift well; probably it was a bomb (as in 1993), I thought. I was terrified, but okay.

Everyone was keen to get out into the street, but we didn't really know how frightened to be. On getting to the foyer, you could see the debris outside on the ground. Hotel officials told people not to go outside, as things might still be crashing down. Maybe five minutes later, people moved outside and we could see the hole near the top of the building. And the fire. It was a mind-numbing sight.

Thousands of people were spilling out into the street from buildings in the financial district, but none of us had much idea what had happened. Someone said it was a missile; another said a helicopter had crashed into the tower. So it might have been an accident?

I didn't have a clue what to do. Like everyone else, I kept looking up, marvelling at the hole and the fire near the top of the first tower.

As I started to move away, I observed debris here and there, the sort of things you would expect to see when a passenger plane explodes. I was maybe 250 yards from the WTC when I looked up and saw the second plane fly directly - maybe 150 yards - above me. Instantly, I knew it was going to hit the tower.

I didn't watch, I didn't see it hit. I just ran, maybe 50 yards towards an alley, terrified that the debris could easily carry to where I stood.

As I ran, I heard the explosion as the second plane hit. I made the alley, and hugged the side of the building. My thought was that the building was high enough to block out any flying objects, but looking around I could see bits and pieces from the first plane. A young Japanese woman stumbled into the alley, crying and very distressed, We hunkered against the wall. I put my arm around her shoulder and told her we were safe, hoping we were.

After a few minutes, I started walking quickly to the bottom of the island.Looking over my shoulder, I could see the holes in the two towers, and the fires. My head was still spinning. People were watching, some crying, most stunned. One guy said the US was at war.


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