New photos show 9/11 tower collapse

19:19, Feb 21 2010
Twin Towers
TWIN TOWERS: This photo taken September 11, 2001 by the New York City Police Department and obtained by ABC News, shows smoke and ash rising above downtown high-rise buildings and engulfing lower Manhattan in New York.
Twin Towers
TWIN TOWERS: smoke and ash rises in the area around the World Trade Centre in New York.
Twin Towers
TWIN TOWERS: This photo taken by the New York City Police Department shows smoke and ash engulfing the area around the World Trade Centre.
Twin Tower
TWIN TOWERS: On September 11 2001 two planes hit the World Trade Centre in New York.
Twin Towers
TWIN TOWERS: Smoke and ash engulf the area around the World Trade Centre in New York.

Newly released aerial photos of the World Trade Centre attack capture the towers' dramatic collapse, from just after the first fiery plane strike, to the apocalyptic dust clouds that spread over lower Manhattan.

The images were taken from a police helicopter - the only photographers allowed in the air space near the towers on September 11, 2001.

They were obtained by ABC News after it filed a Freedom of Information Act request last year with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which investigated the collapse.

The chief curator of the planned September 11 museum, which is compiling a digital archive of attack coverage, said the still images are "a phenomenal body of work" that show a new, wide-angle look at the towers' collapse and the gray dust clouds that shrouded the city afterward.

The photos are "absolutely core to understanding the visual phenomena of what was happening," said Jan Ramirez, chief curator at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

9/11 statue
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2008: A statue depicting a New York City police officer comforting a young girl in the 9/11 attacks is seen during the seventh anniversary of the disaster in Broomfield, Colorado, 2008.
9/11 victim's family
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2007: Relatives of 9/11 victims make their way along the ramp to a reflecting pool at Ground Zero at the World Trade Centre site, New York, September 11, 2007.
Rumsfeld at Pennsyvania site
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2006: US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, pauses after laying a wreath at the 9/11 Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 2006.
9/11 remembrance in Baghdad
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2004: A fireman takes part in a commemoration of the victims of the 9/11 attacks at Camp Victory in Baghdad, September 11, 2004. The ceremony was held in one of the former palaces of the Iraqi former President Saddam Hussein.
9/11 remembrance ceremony
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2006: A woman wears a ribbon and pins in honour of her son who was killed during the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, during a ground breaking ceremony for a memorial in Washington, 2006. The memorial commemorates the 184 lives lost when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
9/11 report
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2004: The 9/11 Commission Report was unveiled in 2004. The commission investigating the September 11 attacks reported 'deep institutional failings' and missed opportunities by both the Bush and Clinton administrations to thwart the hijackings.
9/11 memorial
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2003: Nancy Dwyer, whose sister Lucy Fishman died in the World Trade Centre attacks, joins a demonstration in 2003, against development of commercial structures within the area of the site and calling for a memorial built from bedrock of the World Trade Centre towers.
9/11 remembered at ground zero
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2002: Thousands of mourners of victims of the attack on the World Trade Centre converged at 'ground zero'. One by one, the names of 2801 victims of the attacks echoed over the devastated site.
World Trade Centre impacts
WORLD TRADE CENTRE ATTACKS 2001: Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 approaches and hits the World Trade Centre's south tower, bursting into flames and raining a hail of debris on Manhattan. A gaping hole in the north tower can be seen following a similar attack earlier in the day.
Pentagon
PENTAGON PLANE: The Pentagon building in Washington suffered major damage after a hijacked commercial airliner, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into it.
World Trade Centre
SEARCH FOR SURVIVORS: Firefighters comb the remains of the World Trade Centre after the collapse.
World Trade Centre
TOWERS COLLAPSE: Smoke and debris fill the air after one of the World Trade Centre towers in New York City collapses.
Twin towers rescue
TWIN TOWERS: Rescue workers remove a man from the World Trade Centre tower in New York City. Both towers were hit by planes crashing into the building. Victims from the attack, many suffering from extensive burns - began arriving at hospitals about an hour after the jets slammed into the buildings.
World Trade Centre
HELP NEEDED: A New York City fireman calls for more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble of the World Trade Centre.
9/11
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2009: The "Tribute in Lights" illuminates the sky over lower Manhattan on the eighth anniversary of the attacks.
9/11
AFTERMATH: Smoke from the remains of New York's World Trade Center shrouds lower Manhattan on September 12, 2001, the day after the deadly attacks.

The images of the dust clouds rising as high as some downtown skyscrapers "are some of the most exceptional images in the world, I think, of this event," Ramirez said.

ABC said the NIST gave the network 2779 pictures on nine CDs, saying some of the photographs had never been released before.

The network posted 12 photos this week on its website, all taken by ex-NYPD Aviation Unit Detective Greg Semendinger, who was first in the air in a search for survivors on the rooftop.

He said he and his pilot watched the second plane hit the south tower from the helicopter.

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"We didn't find one single person. It was surreal," he told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "There was no sound. No sound whatsoever, but the noise of the radio and the helicopter. I just kept taking pictures."

He took three rolls of film with his Minolta camera, plus 245 digital shots. Semendinger said he gave the digital images to the 9/11 Commission and believes those images were released by the NSIT.

In the days after the attack, he emailed some of the photos to friends and several were posted on the internet.

Later, nine of the images were published in a book called "Above Hallowed Ground: A Photographic Record of September 11" without his consent. The book was a tribute to the officers who were killed that day.

The photos capture the enormous scope of the dust that enveloped the area.

In some images, the tops of the nearby Woolworth Building and other skyscrapers can be seen rising above the billowing dark plume against a clear blue sky. Buildings can hardly be seen at all in one image - just a burst of dust clouds hanging over the serene Hudson River at the southern tip of Manhattan.

A close-up image from earlier in the morning shows orange flames and black smoke rising past the antenna on top of the north tower, the first hit by a hijacked plane.

Ramirez said the museum, which is slated to open in 2012, saw a selection of the photos at police headquarters several years ago.

They are extremely important because the NYPD aviation unit had the clearance to be up in the air in lower Manhattan only "moments after the first tower was hit," and stayed in the area for the remainder of the day, she said.

Sometime after 10am, she said they were able to "predict that the north tower was going to fall." It did just before 10.30am.

The museum hopes to get a complete set of the photos.

"We've had our sights set on this body of visual evidence for several years," Ramirez said.

Semendinger retired from the NYPD in 2002 after 35 years, 20 of them in aviation. He said he has thought about publishing his work from those days.

"I almost didn't realise what I was seeing that day," he said. "Looking at it now it's amazing I took those pictures. The images are ... stunning."

AP