Reporting the Horror from the Newsroom: ABC’s Pierre Thomas Remembers 9/11

Sep 9, 2011 1:41pm

As the horror of 9/11 began to unfold, I was in a New York City hotel preparing to head back to Washington D.C.  after a series of meetings with some new bosses I had not met in my first nine months at ABC News.

My cell phone  rang. It  was my wife, Alyson. She said “Did you see that a plane just hit the World Trade Center?”

I turned on the television, thinking some kind of small propeller plane had had an accident. As I watched the images, the scale seemed much bigger than a small plane could inflict. Then another plane hit.  It was clear that we were under a terrorist attack.

The previously unimaginable, the unthinkable  was happening.

I checked out of the hotel and raced to get a cab and thankfully was able to find one that took me to ABC News headquarters in mid-town. A few minutes later, I was on the set with Peter Jennings and ABC News’ John Miller as the breaking news unfolded.

As I talked to law enforcement sources about what was happening, the concern in their voices was palpable. One senior official told me that that agents were racing to the airports to get the flight manifests to determine who was on the planes and that would form the jumping off point of figuring out who was responsible. But already—some names were flowing off the lips of sources: Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.

As I reported on air—as the “new guy” at ABC—I remember wanting to be calm—but precise and aggressive in telling people what was unfolding, a terroristic attack, epic in nature,  that  had completly caught federal officials flatfooted.

John Miller was listening to police and radio communications on a radio. I remember the surreal moment when he told us that there was concern about one of the buildings completely collapsing.

We already knew this event horrible and that people had died at the Twin Towers. But it was becoming evident that this was a scene of mass murder inflicted on civilians in a way that our nation had never seen before.

As the first building came down, I distinctly remember Peter Jennings raising his arm on the set to signify to everyone there  to remain silent at that awful moment so we and the viewers could try to put our arms around what was happening.

Then, the other tower came down and the smoke and debris rolled through the city in seeming slow motion like death itself.

There was the terrible attack on the Pentagon and plane which crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Thousands gone in an instant.

The images, so haunting are still seared in my mind.

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