On Sept. 10, 2001, Saanich’s Graham Egan took the elevator up 107 storeys to the observation deck of the South Tower at the World Trade Centre. The next day, he watched from his midtown Manhattan hotel as the tower and its northern counterpart were felled in co-ordinated terrorist attacks, killing 2,783 people.
“As you’re looking out (from the observation deck), you can see little Cessna planes flying around at the same height as you, or you’re even looking down at some of them them, flying over Manhattan,” Egan, 48, recalls about sightseeing from the top of what was then the world’s sixth tallest building.
The next morning, Ehan was wakened by blaring sirens at the fire station next door to Egan’s hotel.
He went down to the lobby and watched as a Boeing 767 slammed into the tower he stood atop less than 24 hours earlier. He watched, from 50 blocks away, as the two buildings eventually gave way and collapsed to the ground.
“It was a beautiful summer day, and we looked down the street and we could just see this cloud of smoke, and we realized that this was real,” he says. “It was an eerie, eerie feeling that the roads that were packed with cars (the day before) were now empty. … There was just a steady stream of people walking up the road out of downtown.”
Egan, finance director with the Municipal Finance Authority of B.C., was in New York to discuss the province’s financial picture with credit rating agencies Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s at a meeting on Sept. 12.
That meeting was originally scheduled for 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, says Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, who chairs the authority. Leonard asked to delay the meeting by one day so he wouldn’t miss a Monday night council meeting.
“I was supposed to be two blocks away from where it happened that morning,” says Leonard, who watched the events unfold from his Saanich home.
With transportation in and out of New York at a standstill, Egan spent the next few days either watching and listening to news or trying to avoid the relentless media coverage.
“I did a lot of walking around New York – I walked around Times Square twice a day, Central Park once every day. You’d see lineups of people volunteering to donate blood, or helping out at shelters or churches. … You could really see the New York citizens gathering, trying to help out,” Egan says. “It seemed that everybody was trying to do their best to cope.”
Ten years later, Egan says it feels like “a lifetime ago” that he was in New York, trying, along with tens of thousands of others, to get home while transportation in and out of the city was halted for days.
On Sept. 14 he caught a train to Toronto. Upon crossing the border, he recalls the entire train cabin breathing a collective sigh of relief.
“We were home,” he says. “I remember looking up in the sky and seeing a plane flying overhead, and it gave me a very eerie feeling in my stomach, thinking back about what had happened a few days earlier.
“To me it was a real life-changing event to be part of, even though I was 50 blocks away. It’s something I’ll never forget.”