‘…A Plane Had Crashed into One of the Buildings …’

Tyler Nichols snapped this photo after escaping from 2 World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. (The film was exposed during an airline stop in Chicago)

Most people can recall their exact location on 9/11 when news of the East Coast terrorist attacks first broke.

My wife Heather and I had been married for only three months. On the morning of 9/11, she awoke to the sound of my father’s ‘56 Ford pulling up to our rental house on Orange Avenue in Redding.

My father explained that there had been an accident at the World Trade Center and that a plane had crashed into one of the buildings.

As Heather turned on the TV, a second plane slammed into 2 World Trade Center (WTC); the panic set in. For the next hour, she sat in front of the TV, trying in vain to count floors, hands shaking, estimating which floors the planes had crashed.

That morning I was on the 61st floor of 2WTC, the second day of a three-week training to be a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley.

From my vantage point (inside 2 WTC) looking west over the Hudson River, I heard an enormous crash, and then watched massive amounts of paper, smoke and debris fall to the street below. The people on the sidewalks looked like ants running in all directions. I didn’t know what had happened, but within a minute was directed to the nearest stairwell and started the long descent with thousands of others.

Even though people worldwide were watching this on live TV, we didn’t know that we were literally running for our lives. Once I arrived at the landing on the 15th floor, the building shook like a violent earthquake, and it was then obvious something big was happening. As I made it outside, the streets looked like a bomb had exploded, and as I looked up, I saw the reality of what was happening above.

An hour later, I found an available payphone and called home to the sound of tears of joy and relief on the other end. I caught a train out of Grand Central Station to Stamford, Conn., that afternoon and rented one of the last available cars the following day. As I drove south out of New York on Wednesday morning, I could see the smoke plumes from the WTC rubble drifting into the air and out over the Atlantic.

My journey soon reached westbound I-80, 3,000 miles away from where I wanted to be most – with family in Redding. I spent a couple of lonely nights in hotels on the road driving across America and one warm welcoming night with family in Chicago. Heather and my brother Matt drove out to Denver to pick me up, and I still recall the wonderful feeling after returning my rental car at the Denver International Airport: standing on the side of the road with three suitcases, thunderheads billowing over the Colorado deserts to the east, with family on the way. It still gives me chills.

We remember the images of that morning vividly: the smoke, the replay of the second plane crashing into the buildings, the firefighters, the Pentagon, the buildings collapsing, and the sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs, because we knew people were dying.

It was a horrendous day in America, and for my generation, we lost a certain innocence that can never be recaptured. Terrorism only happened in other places, not here at home. But it did happen here.

And now 10 years later, we are fighting wars that we will never win, spending our children’s money and still living in a dangerous world.

Our lives are wrapped up in our work, our bills, what’s on TV, what’s for dinner, politics, hurricanes, cleaning, the stock market. We worry about things we can’t control. We stress over things out of our hands. We forget to live. Life can end in the blink of an eye. Did you tell your family that you love them today?

Wishing you peace and happiness in your life.

Tyler Nichols graduated from Shasta High in 1994 and Chico State in 2001. He is married to Heather Nichols and is a stay -at- home father to three wonderful kids.

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Note from Doni Chamberlain-Greenberg: Tyler, on behalf of everyone at anewscafe.com, we’re so grateful you survived 9/11/01. Thank so much for sharing your story with us.

Readers, what are your memories about Sept. 11, 2001? 

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

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6 Responses

  1. Avatar Barbara Grosch says:

    I worked with Tyler's dad at Rother School at that time and I vividly recall the concern and agony on Tom's face, followed by the great relief and joy when we all heard that Tyler was safe. Thank you for sharing, Tyler.

  2. Avatar Adrienne Jacoby says:

    The last paragraph is eloquent. More need not be said.

  3. Avatar Sheila Barnes says:

    I agree that Tyler summed it up in his last paragraph. Thank you Tyler. 'Nuff said.

  4. Avatar Deena says:

    What an amazing firsthand account. Tyler, I'm glad you're at home enjoying your kids!

  5. Avatar Sally says:

    Just like the assassination of JFK, one remembers exactly how we learned of tragedy. I turned on the TV expecting to watch Good Morning America but watched the 2nd plane hit the Twin Tower. I, along with everyone else, didn't have a real sense of what I was watching, but knew the world had changed forever. I also realized the deep love I have for our country.