John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

NZ memories: New York under attack on 'nine-eleven'

150 Years of Memories: In 2001, we knew the world had changed forever.

An aircraft heads toward the second tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Photo / File
An aircraft heads toward the second tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Photo / File

Phone calls woke editors in New Zealand in the small hours. Bleary-eyed they turned on a TV and could hardly believe what they saw. One of the twin towers of New York's World Trade Centre was on fire. An airliner had flown into it.

Herald news editor David Hastings, just home from the night's work, hurriedly put his shoes back on, his eyes fastened to the scene on the screen. Replays showed the plane coming in low over Manhattan in bright morning sunshine, catching the attention of New Yorkers in the street who watched in disbelief as it flew into the building high above them.

By then millions around the world were watching screens. As they watched, a camera trained on the burning tower showed a distant aircraft approaching.

They watched stunned, as that plane flew straight into the second tower.

Reports were coming in from Washington that an airliner had flown into the Pentagon. Another had crashed in Pennsylvania.

New York's mayor Rudy Giuliani came on, calm because he had to be. The United States was under attack. By who or what, nobody knew. How big it might be, how far it might go?

For a terrible hour or so, the world seemed to lose its bearings. The US Air Force was getting fighters up and all civil air craft were ordered to land. But the president, George W. Bush, had been taken into hiding and no word came from the White House.

Only Giuliani was there to give what reassurance he could. As he was speaking, the first tower began to fall, slowly, almost gracefully succumbing to the fire within. It imploded, floor by floor, the weight of each floor crushing the one below.

Then the second tower came down, exactly the same way.

In that terrible hour a small, hastily summoned Herald team put together a special edition of the paper and had it on Auckland's inner city streets by dawn.

More staff were called into work early that morning to produce another edition for midday.

By then the world was regaining some equilibrium. No more commercial airliners had been hi-jacked by suicide pilots and turned into guided missiles laden with people.

The president emerged at last, saying something about evil and vengeance.

Until that day scarcely anyone had heard of al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, or spoke of "nine-eleven".

It was just a year into a new century. The Cold War and most other conflicts of the old century had been settled. That day a medieval religious militancy came out of a clear blue sky to shake the new world and give it a new challenge.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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