9-11 -“It quickly went from curiosity to pandemonium”
Matt Holgate was standing on the top of one of the World Trade Center towers less than 24 hours before it was destroyed by two planes hijacked by militant Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda.
Matt was travelling with a group of eleven wheat farmers from the Southern Riverina as part of an Australian Wheat Board delegation fact finding tour. The group had visited the World Trade Center as part of their tour of the Big Apple’s financial district.
The next day they were on a bus heading to La Guardia Airport to fly out to Chicago when one of the farmers spotted a plane flying unusually low and then witnessed it impacting one of the towers.
“He first noticed the plane flying really low and asked the driver if that was normal. The driver agreed it was not and before we knew it there was black smoke billowing out from Manhattan,” Matt said.
“The driver then rushed us out to airport and told us to quickly get our bags checked in before there were delays.
“Shortly after we had checked in our luggage, we went into a coffee shop to see what was happening.
“There were reports a light plane had crashed into one of the twin towers but then we saw vision of another plane crashing into the second tower.”
Matt said this is where the mood went from curiosity to “pandemonium” very quickly.
“Everything shut down, we were ushered out to a marshaling area. There were thousands of people in this paddock like area.
“There was no communication, everyone was stranded, there was no cabs, no busses. Before we knew it there were fighter jets circling the city, navy frigates coming into the harbour.
“All we could do was look out to Manhattan from the airport where you could see the towers fall and sending smoke everywhere.”
After more than five hours at the airport Matt said the group finally approached a policewoman to help them find a way out of the marshalling area.
“We first borrowed her phone and rang my boss who was in Portland, Maine US at the time. We knew he could pass on the message to our families that we were Ok.
“The police officer then assisted us in getting out of the area by stopping a passing bus.”
Matt said the bus driver was reluctant to help at first but eventually agreed to transport the group to accommodation near his depot in Queens.
“Everyone was on edge in New York, they just wanted to get home to their families. We tried to get accommodation at the airport, but it was full.”
The small “short term stay” hotel in Queens eventually opened up a few rooms for the group who, for the next few days, shared beds and slept on floors until they were able to get their luggage and transport out of New York.
“We had nothing at first when we arrived in Queens, there was a service station next door where we were able to buy some basic items such as toothpaste, toothbrush and deodorant.
“The city was like a ghost town, there were no cabs, nothing was open. We took it in turns to walk 30 minutes out to the airport to try and get our luggage out each day.
“When we finally got our luggage, we chartered a coach and headed for Canada hoping we could get a plane there and rejoin our tour.”
Matt said once the group arrived in Toronto planes were still not running so they then kept driving to Winnipeg where they were able to get on a flight back to Portland, Maine.
Matt remembers well the chaos, where everyone felt vulnerable and totally confused, but one thing that still haunts him about being in New York at the time of 9-11 is a moment from his visit on the World trade Center’s observation deck the day before.
“I can remember on the observation deck there was a lot of those fast-food type outlets such as McDonalds and Wendy’s, which were mainly staffed by young kids.
“I wonder to this very day if they had started work early that morning and if they got caught up in all the mayhem, I hope they didn’t. That thought still haunts me.”
Matt visited the memorial site some 13 years later in 2014 but said that although it was moving admits he did not purposely read all the stories and ages of the names at the memorial.
“I did not want to see a 15-year-old kid listed on the memorial. I would be afraid that it
As the 20th anniversary of New York’s 9-11 disaster approaches this Saturday one local resident will reflect once again on his own experience being in New York at the same time.
may well be one of those young workers on the observation deck I saw the day before.”
Yarrawonga dentist Dr John Charles and his wife Pamela also had some worrying moments over the safety of their son at the time.
Tony Charles, who was 28 at the time, and his wife Elizabeth were living in New York.
Both Tony and Elizabeth came close to death as the World Trade Centre disaster unfolded.
The couple had separate business appointments at the World Trade Centre early that morning. Elizabeth was first to leave their apartment by train which arrived at the subway station located under the World Trade Centre only minutes after a plane had crashed into one of the towers.
Hearing screams of “get out”, Elizabeth quickly exited the subway and ran for her life down several blocks to get away from the disaster area. Shortly after reaching what she considered a safe distance Elizabeth watched in horror as the first tower collapsed.
Tony was about to leave his apartment for a 10am appointment at the World Trade Centre when he became aware of the attack on the centre. Both Towers had collapsed by 10.28am. Tony feared for the safety of his wife.
9-11 the facts:
Doctor Charles and Pamela first heard of the New York disaster when they awoke at 5am on the Wednesday morning after the disaster, unaware that Tony and Elizabeth had come close to death.
“We were extremely concerned about the safety of Tony and Elizabeth but were relieved after receiving a phone call from Tony at 6.30am that morning saying that they were safe.”
Tony and Elizabeth’s distress continued for several days after being told by authorities to pack one bag in readiness· for a possible evacuation of Manhattan Island.
The disaster shook the world all the way to the border region where ADI increased its security.
The border district army facilities were placed on a heightened security alert in response to the U.S. tragedy.
Under a weathercock system, the security level at the Bandiana Army Base and Latchford Barracks at Bonegilla was increased from grey to amber. Amber is the third highest alert level, behind black and red.
A total of 2,996 people were killed.
19 terrorist hijackers aboard the four airplanes.
Citizens of 78 countries died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
At the World Trade Center, 2,763 died after the two planes slammed into the twin towers. That figure includes 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers.
At the Pentagon, 189 people were killed, including 64 on American Airlines Flight 77, the airliner that struck the building. On Flight 93, 44 people died when the plane crashlanded in Pennsylvania.