On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists. The following day, photographer Richard Drew captured a series of photographs that would become some of the most iconic images in history.
Kelly Guenther grabbed her photography gear and dashed to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which overlooks the New York Harbor and the Lower Manhattan skyline, when the first aircraft slammed into the World Trade Center.
Then she saw the second aircraft approaching.
On her left, it was soaring above the Statue of Liberty and straight for Manhattan. She felt a wave of fear sweep over her.
She said almost two decades later, “I understood what was about to happen: I was going to see hundreds of people die.” “I recall saying to myself, ‘No, no, no!’ I took a deep breath and said to myself, “Do your job.” I held the camera up to my face, framed the skyline in my lens wide, and waited for the aircraft on the left to fly into my frame.”
The following day, her picture, which you can see above, was on the top pages of newspapers all around the globe. Some people edited the picture or utilized a two- or three-image sequence to depict the aircraft crashing into the South Tower.
“However, to me, the full frame picture conveys the story: the beautiful blue sky, the iconic NYC cityscape, and a black aircraft, frozen in time, a second before the world changed,” she added.
These are some of the images that have come to symbolize the terrible day in 2001, when over 3,000 people were murdered in terrorist assaults throughout the United States, including New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
This collection includes graphic pictures, as noted by the editor. It is recommended that viewers exercise caution.
Suzanne Plunkett/Associated Press
People flee as one of the World Trade Center’s buildings falls in New York City. Suzanne Plunkett, a photographer with the Associated Press, was on the scene.
She said, “I was barely out of the subway for a few minutes, attempting to pass police barricades when someone screamed, “The buildings are coming down!” “At first, I fled, but my photojournalist training kicked in, and I turned back to take this picture.”
As pandemonium erupted all around her, Plunkett felt like she was on autopilot.
“I recall being totally perplexed by what was going on and frantically wanting to figure out what was going on so that I could keep working….” Despite my astonishment, I continued because I knew what had had occurred needed to be recorded.”
She was sent to Afghanistan only weeks after 9/11 to chronicle the country’s post-Taliban situation.
She reflected, “Those were optimistic days.” “It was the first day of school for the girls. Women were getting their driver’s licenses. I’m saddened by what’s going on in Afghanistan right now, and I can’t help but believe that the US and its allies have abandoned the Afghan people.”
Getty Images/AFP/Paul J. Richards
On the morning of September 11, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispers into the ear of US President George W. Bush as Bush was visiting an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida.
“America is being attacked,” he said.
Card claimed in 2002 that Bush had already known about the first aircraft striking the World Trade Center. He was learning about the second in this picture by Paul J. Richards.
Card said, “I tried to be concise in what I told him so that he grasped the magnitude of the problem.” “He glanced up — it was just a few seconds, but it seemed like minutes — and I thought he was amazing in his ability not to frighten either the American people watching the cameras or, more significantly, the kids in the classroom.”
After a few minutes, the President excused himself and exited the classroom.
AP Photo/Richard Drew
A guy falls from one of the World Trade Center’s buildings. This picture, taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew, did not go down well with everyone.
Drew said, “People have a response to this.” ‘Well, I don’t want to look at it,’ a lot of people remark.
Some individuals, he thinks, respond badly because they can picture themselves in a similar situation. After the aircraft struck the buildings, an estimated 200 individuals died either falling or jumping to their deaths.
We’ll never know whether this guy fell or leaped. His true identity has never been established.
Drew also saw the arrival of additional corpses.
“I was photographing the building when an EMT exclaimed, ‘Oh my goodness, look at that,’ and then people began coming down,” he said. “And while they were falling, I simply began shooting them instinctively.”
Redux/ngel Franco/The New York Times
Women react as they see the World Trade Center’s South Tower fall from Canal Street, approximately a half-mile distant.
When the attacks began that morning, ngel Franco was reporting a politician for The New York Times. He hurried to the scene and parked a few streets away from the crowds who had gathered to observe.
Franco stated that throughout his career, he has always sought to capture history through the perspective of people of color.
“You could see things in the mirror of their glasses because these two women were stuck in time,” he added. Franco returned when the moment had passed to get their names. However, they had vanished.
He recalls how lovely the morning had been just before disaster hit.
“That day, it was all about the light,” he said. “The light had a certain degree of warmth to it.” There was a beautiful sensation in the air. It was very tranquil. After that, it was shattered.”
After the Rev. Mychal F. Judge, the chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, was killed by falling rubble at the World Trade Center, people carried him. A fireman had just received last rites at the scene, and the judge had just done so.
“On that bright September day, I will never forget the strange sight of sunshine breaking through all the devastation and turmoil. That’s when Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton saw the guys transporting Father Judge on a chair. “I knew he’d been murdered, but it struck me as odd that all these guys from different organizations were doing all they could to preserve his corpse. I didn’t know who he was.
“I knew I had created an image that needed to be viewed by the rest of the world when I glanced down at the tiny display screen after taking these photos.”
Stapleton got a letter from Judge’s sister and niece after approximately three or four days of continuous labor.
“It was a letter thanking me for risking my life and telling me that the world will discover how wonderful a guy he was because of that photo,” Stapleton said. “As a photojournalist, the letter was a stomach blow, but it made me realize how important the work we do is.”
Reuters/Sara K. Schwittek
After being struck by United Airlines Flight 175, the South Tower of the World Trade Center explodes into flames.
Sara K. Schwittek shot this picture from her office window in Brooklyn, across the East River.
“My colleagues and I were perplexed as we saw the first tower enveloped in smoke,” she added. “We speculated on the cause: Is that a little plane? Unfortunate mishap? The situation became extremely obvious as soon as the second tower was hit, and terror struck in a manner I will never forget.”
She got hundreds of letters from individuals all around the globe in the year after the photo’s release.
“These strangers told me about their first trip to New York City, or how they brought their kid up to the Twin Towers’ observation deck, or how they wished they had done it sooner,” she added. “I have no idea why these individuals shared their personal experiences with me – a complete stranger — other than they felt compelled to connect and share their narrative, memories, sorrow, and loss.”
AFP/Getty Images/Stan Honda
Marcy Borders is coated in dust as she seeks shelter in a New York City office building after the fall of one of the buildings.
Photographer Stan Honda stated, “I had been in Lower Manhattan for approximately a half hour covering the assault.” “I kept photographing, but the smoke obscured the sun, making it seem like darkness. A police officer was dragging individuals inside an office building near me to get them out of harm’s way. When I entered, there was a tiny lobby with a few individuals who were as perplexed as I was about what was going on.”
Honda saw Borders and took a picture of him a minute later. She was 28 years old at the time and worked as a legal assistant at Bank of America in the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
“It’s difficult to determine what color her outfit is or what color her boots are. He said, “Obviously, there is a lot of dust in the air.” “The yellow hue is due to the fact that the digital camera was set for daylight or outdoor light; the inside light appears yellow. I didn’t ‘correct’ the color in the hurry to get the pictures out later that day. The use of color enhances the image. It has a foreboding aura about it.”
Honda ran into Borders a year later at her apartment in Bayonne, New Jersey, and was glad to see she was OK. However, she died in 2015 from stomach cancer. She was 42 years old at the time.
She stated in an interview with the Jersey Journal before her death, “How can you go from being well to waking up the following day with cancer?” “I’m asking myself, ‘Did (the fall of the buildings) spark cancer cells in me?’”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thousands of survivors and first responders have been diagnosed with cancer as a consequence of the terrorist assault. The fall of the buildings exposed employees and the general public to a number of known chemical carcinogens, according to CDC reports.
Redux/Justin Lane/The New York Times
In the early aftermath of the World Trade Center’s fall, first responders help victims.
“It was tough to make sense of what was going on when I made my way downtown to the location where this image was shot, on Church Street near the junction of Dey Street,” photographer Justin Lane said. “Dust and smoke had made the city blocks unrecognizable.
“It was obvious that a large number of people had killed, and that the magnitude of the disaster was immense. It was also frightening to witness so many first responders unable to cope with the situation’s enormity. This photograph, I’ve always thought, depicts a tiny part of that feeling.”
The New York Times/Redux/Chang W. Lee
On September 11, one of the World Trade Center’s buildings falls.
Chang W. Lee shot this picture for The New York Times.
“I was coming home from a fishing trip in New Jersey with my wife the night before as we reached the Holland Tunnel and witnessed a magnificent sunset above the World Trade Center after a thunderstorm,” he remembered. I told her, ‘Look at how magnificent the World Trade Center is!’ ‘I am very grateful that we live in the safest country on the planet. There will be no earthquakes, no floods, and no danger of missiles here.’
For Lee, who grew up in South Korea in the 1970s, it was an ironic twist.
“A feeling of security was very essential to my family,” he said. “Al Qaeda proved me incorrect the following morning. The events of September 11 permanently altered our way of life.”
Getty Images/US Navy/Preston Keres
On September 14, 2001, a New York City fireman requests the assistance of ten more rescue workers as he works amid the debris of the World Trade Center.
“It seemed like a terrible dream or a movie set,” Preston Keres, a photographer, said. “It was simply a burning mound of dust, papers, and massive steel beams. Hundreds of firemen and other rescue personnel scoured the wreckage with fire hoses and buckets in hand, searching caverns for survivors.”
Keres was a Navy photographer at the time, and he said that being in uniform allowed him to go closer and snap photos.
He observed, “This appeared to be the situation everywhere.” “There were groups of first responders working various sections of the rubble, searching for anyone they could find,” says the narrator.
The New York Times/Redux/Ruth Fremson
Richard Adamiak, a New York City police officer, is one of many individuals who sought shelter in a deli near the World Trade Center when the buildings fell.
“It was a strange scene,” photographer Ruth Fremson recalled, “where firemen, police, and a few citizens staggered about, regaining their breath, spitting out mouthfuls of mud.” “They were only illuminated by the eerie glow of the display cabinet containing cold cuts and cheeses for that day’s sandwiches.”
The entrance of the deli may be seen in the backdrop.
“On that lovely September morning, one should have seen bright sunlight pouring in,” Fremson added. “Instead, the area was enveloped in darkness.”
Daniel Shanken/Associated Press
On September 11, people cross the Brooklyn Bridge as they escape Lower Manhattan.
Daniel Shanken recalls the moment the first skyscraper came crashing down.
The photographer stated, “Time froze still as the throng shifted their focus back to Lower Manhattan and watched (the fall) in amazement and despair.” “With an increased feeling of panic, the throng hurriedly continued the exodus when the structure fell. In a swirl of black smoke, Lower Manhattan vanished from view.”
The absurdity of the picture drew Shanken in: a welcome banner amid an evacuation. But it has evolved into so much more for him.
“To me, this picture symbolizes a time when, in the aftermath of a terrorist assault on our territory, our nation actually emerged out of the darkness to rediscover a fresh sense of common ground and patriotism,” he added.
Gulnara Samoilova/Associated Press
On September 11, people make their way through smoke, dust, and debris on Fulton Street in New York, approximately a block from the fallen buildings.
Gulnara Samoilova, the Associated Press photographer who snapped this picture, was coated in dust as well, and she recalls being in a state of panic as she tried to regain her bearings.
She dashed behind the parked vehicle on the left side of this picture as the South Tower began to fall.
“The earth rumbled, and the vehicle shook,” she said. “A massive cloud of thick dust swept over the streets, turning the beautiful blue sky pitch black. There was a lot of thick, spiky sediment in it. It seemed as if I were in the midst of a storm. After then, everything became quiet.
“I began suffocating and was unable to breathe. My eyes, nose, and mouth were all covered with dust. To hide my face, I drew up my T-shirt. For a brief time, I believed we had been buried alive. Then I understood where I was when I saw vehicle lights blinking.”
Magnum Photos/Alex Webb
Alex Webb took one of the first pictures of Jenna Piccirillo and her little son, Vaughan, on September 11th. He and his wife, photographer Rebecca Norris Webb, were preparing to depart Brooklyn to capture the assault scene in Manhattan.
“A lady stepped out of a building and asked if we wanted to see what Manhattan looked like from her roof as we left our vehicle in Brooklyn Heights on way to Lower Manhattan,” he recounted.
Piccirillo and her son have remained in contact with the Webbs throughout the years. He’s now 20, and he’s taller than his mother.
“If Rebecca hadn’t been with me that day, I’m not sure I would have shot this picture of a mother and kid — with its tone of optimism and impending tragedy,” Webb said.
The Bergen Record/AP/Thomas E. Franklin
On September 11th, firefighters George Johnson, Dan McWilliams, and Billy Eisengrein hoist an American flag at the World Trade Center site. The picture was subsequently featured on a postage stamp, and some have likened it to the famous flag-raising at Iwo Jima.
“It symbolizes the tremendous bravery our first responders displayed that day, and we must never forget that hundreds of innocent people were killed in the most terrible manner imaginable,” said Thomas E. Franklin, a staff photographer for the Bergen Record newspaper.
Franklin recalls traveling to a neighboring hotel lobby to utilize a dial-up Internet connection and transmit his pictures back to the office in the early days of digital photography. It was then that he watched the spectacular video footage that had already been seen by most of the globe.
“You have to keep in mind that there were no cellphones in 2001; I had no means of seeing this images till now,” he said. “I hadn’t seen much of the video the rest of the world had seen all day because I was in the middle of this enormous narrative, walking on the exact epicenter of ground zero. It came as a shock to me.”
AP Photo/Mark Faram/Navy Times
As rescue personnel assist the injured just outside of Washington, DC, priest Stephen McGraw prays over a wounded man outside the Pentagon’s west door.
184 people were killed when American Airlines Flight 77 collided with the Pentagon.
According to the Arlington Catholic Herald, McGraw was on his way to a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery when he witnessed the accident. He parked his vehicle on the side of the road, hopped over a guard barrier, and began praying with people who were impacted. The incident was taken by Navy Times photojournalist Mark Faram.
McGraw told the Catholic Herald, “The word that kept coming to me was ‘Jesus is with you.’” “That was the sentence I continued repeating to them one by one, and they all said yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes
McGraw had barely been a priest for three months when he was assassinated.
AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
After the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, a cloud of rubble engulfs people on New York’s Beekman Street.
“I recall how loud it was: a crushing boom of steel and cement, people shouting, and the sound of their pounding footfalls hurriedly running past me,” photographer Amy Sancetta said. “I recall the crushed debris smelling. For weeks, the scent lingered in my nose, and the flavor lingered in my mouth.”
The picture was taken by Sancetta from an open parking garage.
“When the garage began to fill up, I dashed to the rear of the building and down a metal stairway to the lower level in search of fresh air,” she said. “There was another mother sobbing and attempting to reach out to her son,” says the narrator. She was employed in the building and had safely exited. I didn’t know how terrified I was until I took my phone from my waist pack to attempt to contact her son on her behalf, and my hand began to shake uncontrollably.”
Redux/Kristina Niles/The New York Times
Michele DeFazio puts up a poster of her missing husband, Jason, who worked at the World Trade Center, days after the attacks. She’d gone to the Park Avenue Armory to submit a missing person’s report in the hopes of learning more about her husband’s whereabouts. They had barely been married for two and a half months when this happened.
“Everyone else who arrived to the armory seemed to be accompanied by someone else for support, but Michele came alone, holding her handmade posters with her missing husband’s picture and name,” photographer Krista Niles said. “I recall thinking to myself how awful it was that she was going through this alone.”
Niles said that she didn’t take her picture at first because she was grieving over DeFazio. She followed her down the street.
“All of a sudden, (DeFazio) came to a halt on the pavement, overwhelmed with sorrow and anxiety. … At that time, complete strangers on the sidewalk approached her to console her. It was just a brief moment. I’m not sure she even realized they were there.”
The year following her husband’s death, Niles reconnected with DeFazio.
“Michele informed me she was still processing her husband’s death and had established a scholarship fund in his honor. Despite the fact that I haven’t talked to her since, I frequently think about her, particularly around September.”
Marty Lederhandler/Associated Press
Marty Lederhandler crossed the street from the Associated Press office at Rockefeller Center, rode an elevator to the 65th story of the General Electric building, and shot the burning buildings in the distance as the World Trade Center was attacked. The Empire State Building is in the foreground.
The famous photograph was used on the cover of New York Magazine as well as the cover of the magazine’s best-selling book “Sept. 11, 2001.”
The terrorist attacks, according to Lederhandler, influenced his decision to retire a few months later.
“Twice is more than enough,” he added, alluding to the 1993 Twin Towers attack and 9/11.
Lederhandler, a well-known photographer who captured D-Day in 1944, passed away in 2010 at the age of 92.
Three days after the attacks, President Bush addresses rescue workers, firemen, and police officers in the wreckage of New York’s ground zero.
“What I remember most about the event was the noises and smells, the high degree of security, and the way President Bush interacted with the first responders who were still on the scene,” said photographer Win McNamee.
Bush spoke to a huge crowd of people from atop a mound of debris, using a megaphone.
Bush, like virtually everyone else at the scene, was emotional, and he appeared to have a strong connection with the first responders, according to McNamee. “Without a question, that was one of the most emotional presidential moments I’ve ever seen.”
AP Photo/Dan Loh
On September 15, 2001, the Statue of Liberty can be seen from Jersey City, New Jersey, while the Lower Manhattan skyline remains covered in smoke.
The Associated Press’ Dan Loh stated, “At dawn, I made my way to the Hudson River coastal regions of Jersey City and Bayonne, New Jersey.” “When I glanced over the river to New York City, I saw the Statue of Liberty standing out on the horizon, holding her lit torch aloft, amid the devastation, debris, and smoke.”
After the sun had set, Loh saw two columns of smoke emerging from the rubble, precisely where the Twin Towers had once stood.
“It would be days before airline flights resumed, and when they did, the image of aircraft flying off against the burning smoke that still ascended from Lower Manhattan was strangely juxtaposed,” he added.