San Francisco, California

Today I flew from San Diego back to San Francisco. I had wondered what it would be like flying on 9/11. On the fifth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center it is very much on everybody’s minds.

Can you remember where you were when you heard what had happened?

I was on a mountaintop in Scotland, taking a walking holiday on my own. My (then) husband was in his office in midtown Manhattan.

The first I knew of the disaster was when I emerged from a mobile phone reception blackspot, in a valley, and my phone rang. It was my sister. ‘Have you heard the news from New York?’

My immediate thought was of my husband. What had happened? Was he OK?

‘A plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center,’ she said. Phew, I thought, his office is far enough away from there to be safe. But how awful. The death toll must have been huge – the passengers plus the office workers. What a freaky accident.

Half an hour later, there was another phone call, from a friend. ‘Thank heavens you’re OK. I didn’t know if you were in New York. Planes have crashed into both the Twin Towers.’

What???! One plane crash into a skyscraper could be a freak occurrence. But two?

I looked at my map. I was at the furthest point of my hike. I was about 4 hours walk from my hostel. I completed the rest of my hike at a brisk march, impatient to get to a TV to find out what was happening. My phone kept ringing with calls from anxious friends, wanting to know if my husband and I were both alright. I knew he probably was, but I was still relieved when I finally managed to get through to him and heard the sound of his voice.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Plane crashes, towers collapsing, people jumping. Physically I was tramping across the Scottish mountains, but mentally I was in Manhattan, in the city that I’d grown to love during the 18 months I’d lived there, wondering how my New York friends were coping.

When I got back to my hostel it scarcely seemed any more real. The images on the TV seemed like a Hollywood movie. I sat transfixed, unable to believe my eyes.

I felt pain, a pain for my friends, for New York, for America. It was like seeing a friend in distress, but being a continent away and unable to help. My heart, my mind, my being – I ached for New York.

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