10 Sep 2021

Former RNZ reporter remembers witnessing 9/11

From Morning Report, 7:33 am on 10 September 2021

Former RNZ Reporter Rae Lamb was in New York on the day of the September 11, 2001, attacks and found herself "bearing witness".

A man walks through the rubble after the collapse of the first World Trade Center tower, 11 September 2001, New York.

A man walks through the rubble after the collapse of the first World Trade Center tower, 11 September 2001, New York. Photo: AFP / Doug Kanter

Two planes, hijacked by terrorists from the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda, had been flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, a third hit the Pentagon just outside Washington DC, and the fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Nearly 3000 people were killed as the twin towers collapsed in what was the deadliest foreign attack on US soil.

Former RNZ health correspondent Rae Lamb was by chance in New York on the day.

She told Corin Dann she had been in a meeting when news of the attack on the World Trade Center broke and walked through Manhattan with a colleague to reach the site.

"Everything was upside down, everything was different, those busy streets that you'd normally see in New York had come to a standstill."

"There were cars parked haphazardly, everyone was desperate for information, they had car radios on, people were sitting on church steps lighting candles.

"There was this increasing tide of people very disheveled, looking dirtier and dustier, and some of them bloodied walking uptown as we got further down there. It was just like something that you just couldn't comprehend.

"Who would have ever thought at that time, in those days, that people would turn huge jumbo jets full of passengers into bombs."

She joined a group of rescuers and locals taking turns to use a single payphone to get news out.

"We would just queue up and every time I got to the front of the queue, I would ring Radio New Zealand." When she got through to RNZ she was put to air on Morning Report and gave her eyewitness report.

"It was really bearing witness to something, it was a case of see it, hear it and then report it."

As the hours went on a sense of futility and despair crept in as it became apparent no one else would emerge from the towers. 

"Everyone wanted to help, and actually by that point there was no one to help."

Lamb said she has been back to New York three times but has never been able to get back to Ground Zero.

"My daughter who's now grown up, who was 10 at the time, has been down to the memorial and she's told me that it's really good, it's been done very sensitively," she said.

"I'm glad about that but I don't feel I could ever go back down there."