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9/11 Eye Witness

Alistair Penman, a former pupil of Ardrossan Academy, left in 1993.

He witnessed the terrorists' attack on New York on 11 September 2001.

We reproduce, in full, Alistair Penman's graphic account of this tragic event in remembrance of those who died that day.

I write to you today to explain to any of you my first hand experiences of the Attack on America in New York which I witnessed on September the 11th. My name is Alistair Penman and attended Ardrossan from 1987 - 1993. I'm not too sure how many of you will remember me!!

Myself and my girlfriend, Barbara, were on holiday in the States from the 4th September - 20th September. We had planned a trip to visit friends and relative in both Boston and New York - stopping off in Iceland for three days on out return. We set out on the 4th and arrived in Boston and spent a brilliant week seeing the sites. We were staying with Barbara's close friend who now lives and works on the outskirts of Boston in a place called Somerville. I totally recommend Boston to anyone for a visit as the city is one of the best in America - the people are really friendly (they all say its the huge Irish population!!).

On Monday the 10th Sept we set off by coach for the trip to New York. This was going to be the climax of our trip - we thought. We had planned the trip for a while and were looking forward to visiting various tourist places, museums, shopping and generally enjoying the lifestyle that New Yorkers lead. Again, we were staying with people we knew. Barbara's cousin (Emily) moved to NY last year with her husband (Colin) and 10 year old kid (Kyle). They have an apartment in Queens, Astoria - which is about a 15 minutes ride on the subway from Manhattan.

We arrived in NY mid afternoon on the Monday. We took the subway to Queens where we spent the first night with Colin, Emily and Kyle catching up and enjoying the huge thunder and lightening storm that had hit the city.

Now generally we are not the earliest risers - if anyones knows us (!) but we were on our holidays and it was our first proper day in NY, so we got up at 6.30am and headed into Manhattan with Emily who teaches and starts work at 8am. On our way in Emily had pointed out some sights from the subway - the Empire State, Brooklyn Bridge, the WTC etc etc. Before we had arrived we planned to visit a tall tower on our first day as people say its the best way to see the city and get your barings. So, we decided it would be either the WTC or the Empire State. It was early and things didn't really open till 10ish so we decided to get off the subway early and walk slowly down 5th Ave. It was 8am and we stepped out into the hustle and bustle of the city - people getting on with their everyday lives. People going to work, children going to school, taxis racing down the street! We thought - wow - New York is the place to be. The atmosphere of the city had hit us and we were engulfed. We continued to walk down 5th Ave, past the Trump Tower, the Rockafeller Centre, St Patricks Cathedral, Tiffany's - not a care in the world. Little did we know what was about to happen. We had reached the Empire State building at 8.40am, again too early for it opening, so we nipped down 33rd Street to go to a camera shop. We stopped and chatted to the shopkeeper about areas of the city he recommended. On return to the street we walked back up and saw cars stopped and people on the street looking down 5th Ave in the direction of the WTC.

We both looked down the street and saw intense grey smoke coming from the Twin Towers. People were confused. Was it a movie?? Was it an accident?? We asked people what was going on - radio reports had said that an aircraft had crashed into the Twin Towers. People were stunned - not a cloud in the sky, perfect visability - how could this have happened? We stood on the corner watching events unfold - what was this?? From the corner of my eye I saw a small black dot moving from right to left - another plane?

Seconds later an almighty explosion from side of the building. Flames, smoke, screaming, sirens. It seemed to be happening in slow motion. People now were stunned - what was happening to the best city in the world. Cars had stopped and people had their radio blasting from them with the continuous news. Terrorists, people thought. Workers were out of their shops, builders, delivery men, taxi drivers all standing watching stunned. At this point we were standing outside the Empire State building. Police suddenly panicked and evacuated the area as reports were coming in other planes had been hijacked. Everyone thought the ESB would be next. We were herded down 5th Ave, towards the WTC. People were stunned and not too sure what to do. I think people were thinking about other people they knew who worked in these buildings. They say everyone in NY knows someone who worked there. We went past the Flat Iron building and Broadway. Eventually we could stop at a place called Union Square - people may have seen this on TV as where all the candlelight peace vigils are helded. It is approximately a mile away. We stood watching with everyone. Sirens, sirens and more sirens. Thats all I can remember hearing. We stood next to a car listening to the radio reports. A plane had now gone into the Pentagon. What was happening to America? Moments later, the second tower collapsed. I really don't know what to write. Slow motion as the tower fell to the ground. Dust covered the Manhattan skyline.

People were screaming and crying - NO, NO. I remember a man standing behind me screaming NO and running and kicking his foot against a wall - then falling to the ground - distraught. Again stunned people stood watching, listening, wondering what was going to happen next. I think there was an air of expectancy that the remaining first tower would collapse. Smoke and dust still covered the area.

Half an hour later the tower fell. People looked away in disgust. They couldn't watch what was happening. We were stunned, we couldn't believe what we had just seen. We sat down. People were walking past us dressed in business suits but covered in dust. A lucky escape.

We had to move on so we walked slowly back to Uptown Manhattan. The streets were now really busy now, everyone was trying to get away from Downtown. Everything had closed. We thought we would head up to Central Park. We watched events unfold from outside CBS headquarters on the big screen TV. Replay after replay of the plane hitting the building. We couldn't take much more so we did indeed head to Central Park and sat there till about 8pm at night when we heard the subway had started running again - only to Queens though, but we eventually managed to get home.

I will not bore you with the detail of the rest of the holiday. New York basically closed. We managed to see some museums towards the end of the week and get some shopping done, but there was a strange atmosphere covering the city. We spent a lot of time walking around looking at the sights and walking in Central Park. Luckily, Emily and Colin must be the only people in America who do not have a TV, so we were not subjected to endless news coverage. We managed to fly as planned on the following Monday to Iceland where we spent two days relaxing in the lagoons and spas.

All in all, this holiday will be one that I will never ever forget and will remain with me for the rest of my life. Seeing events unfold before my eyes will stick with me forever. We were heading there that morning and could have easily stayed on the subway longer and been around the area at the time. We were both very lucky.

New York is an amazing place and is somewhere I would love to go back too - perhaps to live for a while. The city will never be the same again though.

Alistair Penman

P.S I can be contacted on ali@boxmedia.co.uk