Today marks 15 years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, which killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a crash site in Pennsylvania. It still is hard to grasp the entirety of that day and how I watched a small part of it through my window at work.
Since 1989, I have been lucky enough to have a broadcast booth on the House side of the U.S. Capitol – it’s a tiny space, but it sports a million dollar view down the National Mall, and across the river into Virginia.
But on that day, September 11, 2001, the picture was much different. As I looked across the river into Virginia the morning, the sky was filling with smoke.
“I have a window that looks right out on the city, and there is clearly large black clouds of smoke coming right over from the Pentagon,” I reported live on the air around 9:50 am, just a few minutes after American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon.
My day had actually started over at our news bureau a few blocks away, on the Senate side of the Capitol. My planning note for September, 11, 2001, to my stations said I was going to cover a news conference about a proposal to cut the capital gains tax rate.
But then, there were the first reports of a fire at the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
Not long after, the scream of a fellow reporter filled our newsroom, when she saw the second plane crash into the other World Trade Center tower on live television.
I figured that if something was going to happen in Washington, I should be in a spot where I could see it, so I hustled over to the U.S. Capitol and went to my booth on the House side, my booth with a window.
In the background of my live report that morning, you can hear my police scanner chirping away with information.
I can say with assurance that I was the only reporter in the Capitol with a police scanner that day – that same scanner a few weeks later would alert me to the anthrax attacks over in a Senate office building.
Listening back to the coverage of that day, it’s always interesting to hear how reporters framed what was going on – because it was all unfolding right before your eyes.
“It could be that we’re seeing a major terrorist attack on all kinds of different places,” I said, as police began to run away from the building, and an announcement blared in the background that it was time to evacuate.
One reason that police officers were scattering – as were many journalists and staffers out on the East Front of the Capitol – was the “Doomsday” plane had just taken off from Andrews Air Force Base, and was literally rumbling over the Capitol and White House.
The special military command aircraft – which is all white – was mistaken by some for a plane that was going to be crashed into D.C.
I left my House booth that morning and ran across the building to my Senate booth, grabbed a laptop, another tape recorder and some other equipment, and then ran down the stairs and out the door, right behind the Senate Chaplain.
About 15 minutes later, I was on the air again, when there was a huge sound of an explosion. The building I was in shook; you could see the glass visibly move.
But, it wasn’t another plane being used as a terrorist weapon. It wasn’t a car bomb.
It was the sonic boom of U.S. fighter jets, flying north over the city, going to intercept the final plane that had been hijacked, United Flight 93.
But, by the time the fighter jets had flown over D.C., that flight had already crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
The passengers on that plane stormed the cockpit and prevented it from flying to Washington, where the target was supposedly the U.S. Capitol or the White House.
I will always salute those people, because they may have saved many lives in the nation’s capital, including mine.