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September 11th, 2008
08:00 AM ET

“This is New York.... A plane has hit the World Trade Center.”

Editor's Note:
We are devoting many posts today to the anniversary of 9/11, with first-hand accounts, insight, and commentary dedicated to that day seven years ago that changed our world. Edith Chapin was the Deputy Bureau Chief of CNN's New York bureau on September 11th, 2001. She was in the middle of CNN's morning conference-call to discuss the day's programming, when a colleague ran into the meeting with news an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. She shares her experiences below:

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Edith Chapin
CNN Vice President and Washington Deputy Bureau Chief

I had already spoken on CNN’s daily morning conference call about expected coverage in New York that day. My colleagues and I were just listening to the rest of the network plans, when a colleague came running into the newsroom saying he had just witnessed it from an office on the other side of the building. I immediately broke into the conference call with the news.

“This is New York. We have breaking news to report. A plane has hit the World Trade Center.”

Those words are one of my clearest memories from September 11, 2001.
The rest of the day is a series of snapshots in my memory.

I was in the newsroom seconds later. The first screen my eye locked onto on the bank of televisions above the assignment desk was the one with the WABC helicopter feed. I saw the North Tower with the big black hole. I remember thinking “that is kind of big for a Cessna”, which is what I had envisioned as I relayed the news to the network.

We began re-directing all of our field personnel to the scene, knowing that one major challenge would be transmission. Our primary microwave receiver in New York City was atop the World Trade Center.

Minutes later when the second plane hit the South Tower, for a second or two, I thought it was tape coverage of the first plane, but quickly realized the first hole was still there. I blinked hard twice to make sure.

In the midst of the newsgathering vortex I realized that three feet to my right author Amy Tan was still sitting in the newsroom waiting to go live to promote her new book. She seemed stunned by the swirling maelstrom around her. Her appearance on CNN would wait for another day.

An hour later, when the first tower collapsed, the newsroom was jolted into near silence. We had several teams of reporters, producers and camera crews in the area. Instantly I knew I had to account for the whereabouts and safety of all of them. Many began phoning in with information. I put a check mark next to their name once someone spoke to them. I realized quickly that I didn’t know where three producers were. I typed a text message on their pagers asking if they were okay and to please acknowledge the message. Two did right away, though one inadvertently didn’t sign their name so I wasn’t sure who had responded. It felt like hours, not minutes before producer Shannon Troetel phoned in to say she too was OK.

Then suddenly in the words of Yogi Berra, it was “déjà vu all over again.” The second tower collapsed. A second headcount began. This time my heart was further up my throat. It took longer to get that last acknowledgment. I kept saying to myself “Come on Shannon: call, beep, anything!” She did and I turned to Karen Curry, the bureau chief, to report fortunately everyone was accounted for.

From the first minutes of the crisis I was on another open conference line with headquarters in Atlanta and our Washington bureau: a plane had slammed into the Pentagon, all aircraft nation-wide were being grounded, a fourth plane was perhaps headed for the White House or Camp David. I reported that New York City was being sealed off.

The hours flew by. It was a tsunami of editorial information and logistical details. We were offered astounding pictures of the planes slamming into the buildings from almost every angle imaginable. Each set of pictures was more incredible than the last.

Reflecting on it over the years, my memories play back alternately in fast-forward and in slow motion. I had been to Bosnia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland and places where war looked more like a traditional war. This war was indescribable. It was on my doorstep-visible from the office and just over a mile from my apartment.

Seven years later, I work in Washington, where the first of the permanent memorials will be unveiled on Thursday at the Pentagon.

September 11, 2001 remains a solemn and powerful memory.

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Susan

    Edith:

    Thanks so much for your vivid reminder of that most tragic day in our countries history. It changed us as a country and a people.

    My thoughts will always be with those affected by this terrible day.

    Susan
    Phoenixville,PA

    September 11, 2008 at 3:14 pm |
  2. Shauna

    I woke up the morning of 9/11/01 at my boyfriend's house with the TV on but the sound off, trying to blink away what I was seeing with the sleep in my eyes. I couldn't tell what was going on so I got up and went to the living room where I could turn up the TV, realizing what I was seeing was real and not a movie... I panicked. My mother was supposed to fly out that morning. I didn't know where the planes had taken off from or where they were supposed to be going. Fortunately for me, her flight was later in the morning and she had not lost her life that same day many of other people did. I still to this day will never forget the feeling of loss that I had, even for the brief moments in between me seeing what was happening on TV and picking up the phone to call to check on her. My heart feels permanent pain for all the lives lost and the loved ones who are still missing them.

    September 11, 2008 at 3:08 pm |
  3. Huntress

    September 11th, 2001.
    I will NEVER forget.
    God Bless America.
    God Bless our troops & our first responders.
    God Bless the families of those died on 9.11.01

    September 11, 2008 at 2:23 pm |
  4. jenn

    i too will never forget where i was that day.

    i was in westbury, about a half hour east of NYC on long island, my first day of training as a manager for another store further east. howard stern was playing on the radio in the office next door...and then hearing what happened, hearing the anger and fear in his voice. we set up the tv with antennas and watched it on the spanish channel news. walk outside, look west, you could see the smoke rising from the towers. the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach hearing about the collapses. one of the girls at the store calling to tell a man his order came in, the daughter answering and saying that they didn't know if he made it out alive. getting in the car on the way home, seeing all the traffic, fire depts and ambulances going west into the city and no one driving east with me, the LIE eastbound was a ghost town.

    i was so lucky to not have lost anyone close to me. but i do know many people who did suffer those losses. my heart will forever go out to them and the many brave and innocent people that never came home that day.

    September 11, 2008 at 1:11 pm |
  5. Kerry

    My husband and 2 daughters (ages 3 and 1 1/2) were on our house hunting trip in Bethesda MD. We were going to forgo our appointments for the day to go sightseeing, minutes before we were to get on the Metro headed downtown we stopped in the hotel room to get something and turned on the tv. We watched in horror as the 2nd plane hit the tower. We spent the day glued to the tv in the hotel room thinking that our country was under attack. Our 3 year old is now 10 and remembers that day as if it were a dream, she insists that she saw the plane hit the building and watched them drop. We all did, in horror. Every year on Sept 11 I visit a church and cry and pray for the people who died that day.

    September 11, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  6. Roberta

    It's so important that we all remember this event and keep in mind that the United States is not always perfectly guarded against evil.

    I, too, remember most details about that morning. I'm in Kansas City. I was about to head out to work when I turned on the TV to see what the weather would be like so I would know whether to take a jacket to work. I sat down, completely stunned. A minute later, I watched what I thought was a fire-fighing plane (coming to drop water on the first tower) fly into the second tower.

    I never made it to work that day. I think the most VIVID personal image that I have from my safe perch in the middle of the US was of stepping outside with my dog sometime within the first hours and looking up at a clear blue sky. It was clear except for several jet streams that were dissipating in a "u-turn" shaped pattern. I realized that it was from all of the planes being called back to their airports of origin. Seeing what was happening on TV was the most horrible thing I'd ever seen. And, looking up at the sky above my backyard and seeing that bit of...oh, I don't know, physical proof, made it all even more real than it already was.

    September 11, 2008 at 12:45 pm |
  7. Amy

    A local member of our church here in greensboro N.C. was a stewardess on flight 93. Rest in peace Mrs. Bradshaw and I hope one day all people who lost family and friends can find a way to be at peace until they meet their loved ones again .

    September 11, 2008 at 12:32 pm |
  8. Caroline

    What I'd really like to know are the reporters personal thoughts--your feelings? Who cried in the newsroom? Who didn't? If you guys and gals don't cry, why not? Does everyone cry after, in private?

    September 11, 2008 at 12:08 pm |
  9. Heather

    I was still sleeping out here in Calif. My husband was watching tv getting ready to leave for work. He opens the bedroom door and says"a plane flew into one of the buildings at the world trade center".I was barely awake but I had the tv on CNN and just watched. I watched the second plane and knew it was terrorism and I knew it was Osama bin Laden. Watching the buildings fall to the ground with family and friends left helpless but to watch. I didn't want to believe that what I was watching was real. I called and asked my dad is this happening, is this real? He said yeah its real. I thought it was a hollywood special effect. It wasn't, it was terrorists who rocked the ground we stand on. We joined a club no one wants to be a member of.Countrys attacked by terrorists. It has changed us as a country we will never be the same.

    I want you to know that CNN had without a doubt the best coverage of this day and all that followed. I really liked how you have kept the ticker at the bottom of the screen.

    September 11, 2008 at 11:53 am |
  10. antonio

    when this happened I was in 10th grade, going to school on long island(suburb outside the city). i remember that morning I talked about skipping class and going to the city with a friend. thank god he had a test and said no we should do it another time.

    we were in first period that felt like forever when we got the news, a teacher friend of my bio teacher came in to tell her what happened, because my teacher's husband was a fire fighter for the city. fortunatly for him too he took off that day to spend time with their 2 year old daughter.

    it was a scary day, with bad feelings as lots of my friends parents worked in the city. two of them i knew well lost their dads. and my friend who i was suppose to skip with, dad made it out ok after a few hours of not hearing from him.

    September 11, 2008 at 11:52 am |
  11. Sheldon

    I remember coming to work and seeing the live footage of the second plane hitting the tower. It was something I will never forget. I cried. I tried my hardest to work that day but we all sat around the television waiting and wanting to see who and why someone would do such a thing. I knew in my heart that day that our military would be activated and used to track down those who committed this destruction. That day changed the world we live in. My hearts go out to those who lost their family members.

    September 11, 2008 at 11:47 am |
  12. Sean Thursby

    It's funny...I've always heard from my parents and grandparents about the assassination of President Kennedy: "I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news." They could relate precise details about the room they were in, the people around them...minutiae that are frequently discarded and ignored in our hectic lives. I never really believed them, honestly. Don't know why, but I did. Then 9/11 came. I was in Fort Collins, CO, on a travel job. I was in the habit of having CNN on in the background while I got ready for work. You know what? Seven years later, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.

    September 11, 2008 at 11:42 am |
  13. RealityKing

    A day I will never forget. A lesson we must all learn, and remember..

    September 11, 2008 at 11:01 am |
  14. Ken Mace

    I was stunned when a secretary came into my office to tell me that a plane had just crashed into the WTC. She couldn't have known that my brother was in that tower or that the tragedy of that day was only beginning to unfold. I left my office to see the TV coverage just in time to see the 2nd plane hit the south tower. Knowing this was no longer an accident; I raced back into my office and frantically began my efforts to locate him. The phone lines were either busy or not functioning as number dialed produced anything other than busy tones or silence. I kept dialing and dialing.......

    When the frustration and fear grew to be too much I left for home to see if I might have better results there or be able to see his face in the crowds of people being broadcasted by the network coverage. For a fleeting second I thought I saw him in a throng of people but then realized it wasn't him when the segment was shown several times later. I kept dialing and hoping that perhaps he had an appointment out of the building.

    Later that eve, his girlfriend called to ask if we had heard anything from him. She had checked his condo and according to the doorman he had left for work a few minutes earlier than usual but hadn't returned. No one knew where he might be . We kept on looking...

    I made arrangements to travel to NYC from Pittsburgh: drive to Philadelphia and then Amtrak to NYC. I met his girlfriend and another close personal friend to begin our efforts to search the hospitals in and around the city. We walked the streets, posted fliers and provided personal information about Rob to the coordinating agencies helping to put WTC survivors in contact with their families. It was then I began to realize the enormity of the personal devastation of that day. We weren't alone. Thousands of others were facing the same circumstances of desperately trying to find a loved family member in a sea of calamity.

    We searched and searched until we ran out of possibilities. On Friday evening I stood in Washington Park and faced the reality that I had feared for 3 days. I dialed one more time knowing I was facing the most difficult moment of my life. Our mother answered. The words were nearly impossible for me to exhale, "your son is never coming home again"

    We miss you Rob but you're never far away in our hearts.

    September 11, 2008 at 10:33 am |
  15. Brock lightning

    my aunt janice brown did in the attack and every year we listen for her name like it was yesterday.

    September 11, 2008 at 10:21 am |
  16. Angela

    Edith, this was an incredibly vivid account. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    September 11, 2008 at 10:02 am |
  17. Charley Soukup

    While we once again reflect, better devote some consideration to our country today – economy in shambles, Presidential election looming and no certainty it seems that we will even be able to count votes correctly, oil WILL run short and dry one day, whenever we choose to start employing alternate energy sources, China emerging as a world economic power and looks like following a similar path of polluting their water and land in the rush of production and consumption, wars here and there dragging on... Yikes!

    September 11, 2008 at 10:00 am |
  18. John

    I remember the day from Minnesota I was a Plans Officer for the National Guard. I was at a briefing about a strike and was helping develope the plan if the strike went ahead. I remember being in the briefing room when a Sargent came in and turned on the large screen TV. I have never seen men with tears in thier eyes and such anger in their voices. It was unreal and hideous that anyone would go after innocents. God bless all the families that lost love ones that day. And god bless all the policeman and Firemen that lay their lives on the line daily for us.

    Bless all my friends that are bringing the fight to are countries enemies on a daily basis I wish I could still be by your side.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:39 am |
  19. Bill Boylan

    I keep hearing on the news about the men and women who lost their lives in the attack. Did we all forget ? Those men and women were murdered in the attack. The news should state the facts in what really happened, and stop trying to be so damn politically correct.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:24 am |
  20. Jaime Smith

    I cant imagine what it must have been like to be a news reporter that day. To have get the story out without showing the emotion that every single one of us was feeling.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:24 am |
  21. Leonard, Toronto, ON

    May God Bless All those affected directly by the events of Sept 11, 2001 and may god bless America.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:21 am |
  22. ully

    my sympathy to all family missing their friends and family on 9/11/01....i pray God will lead you,strengthen you all....to all the victim...you are the American hero!

    September 11, 2008 at 9:16 am |
  23. Hannah

    That is an excellent story and makes me sad just thinking about what happened 7 years ago.

    September 11, 2008 at 9:03 am |
  24. victor calonje

    What doesnt kill us will only make us stronger...My deepiest regards to all the families who lost a love one on 9-11...Keep the faith !

    September 11, 2008 at 9:02 am |
  25. Marquis

    A SAD DAY IN AMERICAN HISTORY.SO MANY INNOCENT LIVES LOST.NO SO MANY JOBS LOST.

    GOD HELP US

    September 11, 2008 at 9:01 am |
  26. Cindy

    When this horrible tragedy happened I was at work in my office and someone came in and told me. I couldn't believe it and turned on my radio to hear about it. I didn't get to see images of it until I got home that evening but I did keep up with it all day on the radio.

    As soon as I got home I turned on the TV. I couldn't believe the images and that both buildings had collapsed. Also that the pentagon was hit. I felt so bad for everyone that had died in the buildings and the planes. And I just couldn't believe that terrorists had finally got into America and were able to pull this off.

    I am just glad that nothing like this has happened since and I pray to God that it never does again!!

    Cindy...Ga.

    September 11, 2008 at 8:56 am |