The thing that dominates my memories of 9/11 is confusion.
At first, no one comprehended the horror. We all know what it means now and has meant for a decade but all we had at first was a single camera shot of the World Trade Center that couldn’t possibly reveal the scope of the nightmare. The first speculation by CNN hosts was that a small plane had somehow gone off course and slammed into the North Tower. I vividly remember a colleague at 680 News looking at CNN over my shoulder when the second plane hit the South Tower. It wasn’t a great view, that tight shot they had on the North Tower at that moment, and the plane looked tiny. No one at CNN had even commented yet and my colleague said, “Was that another plane?” I recall a very low “Nooooo” of disbelief coming out of my throat.
We all stayed on air that day until well into the afternoon. I was morning news anchor on CHFI at the time. The number of planes involved kept changing. No one knew for sure. That was the thing. And when you listen to the newly released tapes of air traffic controllers you can hear them trying to figure it out. One says they have to move fast to alert the rest of the country because there could be a lot more hijacked planes in the air. Another sounds unsure and signs off. At that moment it was a brand new, revelatory opinion that maybe this was bigger than anyone could imagine, like a disaster movie coming true. Nothing prepared them for this. The gasps and flashes of silence reveal the shock with which they were taking in the day’s events.
A Rogers TV crew happened to be filming “a day in the life” at 680 News that morning. (The video is no longer online.)
I watched that video this week and saw the look of horror on my face but I have no memory of being filmed that day. I’m grateful that I had somewhere to be and something absorbing to do. Unforgettable doesn’t begin to describe the experience. You will doubtless always remember where you were and probably couldn’t tear yourself away from the coverage either. Anything became plausable after that day, in the worst possible way. I hope it’s the only day like it that we ever have.