Kiwis reflect on 9/11 terror attacks

MICHELLE COOKE
Last updated 14:46 09/09/2011
HAMISH COLEMAN-ROSS

People on the streets of Wellington remember their experiences 10 years on from the the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001.

World Trade Centre impacts
Reuters Zoom
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.
Alan Beaven
VICTIM: Alan Beaven was the only New Zealander killed in the September 11 terror attacks. He was killed after Flight 93 crashed into the woods in Pennsylvania.
Kimi Beaven and daughter Sonali Beaven
Martin Klimek/USA Today
REMEMBERING: Kimi Beaven and daughter Sonali Beaven, age 5 in photo, hold a picture of Alan Beaven who was killed in the crash of Flight 93 on September 11 in 2001.

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September 11 memorial
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NEVER FORGET: Flags adorn a fence at the Flight 93 Temporary Memorial outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania September 8, 2011.

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Ten years have passed since New Zealander Alan Beaven was killed when the plane he was travelling in crashed into the woods in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.

His brother Ralph Beaven was in Fiji at the time, huddled with others around a television, intensely watching the news footage as the terrorist attacks - which brought down the Twin Towers - unfolded.

He knew his younger brother was living in New York, but he never thought he would have been killed.

But then he got the phone call.

"I got a call from my sister in Florida and my mother," the Auckland man said.

"They were the calls that told me."

Alan was on United Airlines Flight 93, a scheduled flight between New Jersey and San Francisco.

But the flight never arrived at its destination.

Instead, it was taken over by four terrorists and plummeted into the woods near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Alan was the only New Zealander killed during the attacks.

It was one of four flights that day that never reached the locations they were heading to.

Two flights sped into the twin towers, causing them to crumble on to the city below, killing thousands of people.

Another plane was flown into the Pentagon in Virginia, killing all of the people on board.

Alan, originally from Milford in Auckland, was a successful environmental lawyer and family man.

He was married to Kimi and had a young daughter Sonali, who Ralph said was about four or five at the time.

He also had two sons from a previous marriage.

Alan's younger sister, who lives in Florida, will travel to Pennsylvania this weekend where she will meet up with Kimi and Solani, who still live in New York.

The trio will spend the next three days attending the anniversary memorials.

"It's amazing it's been 10 years," Ralph said. "It does bring back the emotions and memories of the time, but we've got to move on."

But he said every anniversary was a time of reflection. He said the death of Osama bin Laden earlier this year brought some closure for the family.

"It obviously brings it home to memory so our thoughts will be with [Alan]."

LIFE IN NEW YORK SINCE 9/11

New Yorkers have been on edge since the September 11, 2001 attacks which killed close to 3000 people, New Zealander Brent Stanton says.

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But the terrorist attacks have also brought people together and have made New York a "softer" and "friendlier" place.

Stanton has lived in the Big Apple for 24 years. He was there the day the twin towers collapsed after two planes were hijacked and flown into the buildings.

He was there during the days that followed and still lives in the city with his wife and children.

Stanton, originally from Christchurch, said every time there was an earthquake or a power cut, everyone's first thoughts were about the possibility of another terrorist attack.

"The initial thought is someone's planted a bomb or they've flown a plane into the building."

That's what Stanton and his colleagues thought a couple of weeks ago when an earthquake shook their building for about 30 seconds.

"Everyone is on an automatic alert."

He said the Jewish community had cordoned off official buildings and community centres to the general public since the attacks, making it more difficult for outsiders to get in.

There were more street cameras and a higher security presence. 

"They're just those little reminders - that there's always that possibility."

Stanton, 54, said New Yorker's were even more on edge in the days leading up to the 10 year anniversary.

"There is always a sense of heightened security ever 9/11 anniversary. Everyone wonders if something else is going to happen."

Stanton said every news outlet was reporting on the possibility of another attack.

He was at work when the events unfolded on that fatal day on September 11, 2001.

"It was such a surreal time," he said. He had started walking home through Central Park while the buildings crumbled behind him, creating a dust cloud that would affect the air quality for several years later.

"There were tonnes of people walking home. Some people had ash all over them. There were just hundreds of people walking in the same direction, away from the towers."

His wife was with their seven-month-old twins and was frantic because she couldn't get hold of him. Cellphone coverage was down.

"She was trying to get hold of me but she couldn't. She said to a total stranger; 'Can I have a hug' and he said 'I need one too'. People were hugging each other - just total strangers."

In the days, weeks and years that followed people continue to reminisce about that day.

"Total strangers were talking to each other, we all had something to say and I think that's continued. Every anniversary people remember."

While New York had a reputation for being an unfriendly, hard place that had changed since the attacks. "I think it's softened a lot because of it and it's stayed that way."

IN THE THICK OF IT

While most people were running away from the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, New Zealander Lauren Quaintance was heading in the opposite direction - straight towards Ground Zero.

Quaintance, originally from Wellington, said her memory of the day and those that followed has since become "packaged and edited".

The magazine editor had been in the Big Apple for just six weeks studying a master's degree at Columbia University when the attacks occurred.

She was at an all-day conference when the news broke that two planes had flown into the World Trade Centre towers.

Quaintance, 37, and fellow journalist and New Zealander Rae Lamb's journalistic instincts took over, and they headed out on to the street to report.

"We didn't intend to go to Ground Zero but that was where we ended up.

"My first reaction was disbelief, really, and initially at least it was difficult to grasp the enormity of the situation. But as a journalist the instinct to report on what was unfolding was quite overwhelming too.

"I remember calling my mother in Wellington in the middle of the night and saying: 'When you wake up you'll find out something terrible has happened but you just need to know I'm alright'."

The pair were confronted by a police cordon but Quaintance's press pass meant they were allowed inside.

"There was no-one inside the cordon except for rescue workers and a few disoriented survivors and fighter jets were swooping overhead. At one point the police broke into a corner shop to get everyone water and someone handed out flimsy hospital masks in an attempt to protect us from the fumes.

"There was paper everywhere from the collapsed buildings and of course the smoke from the fires," Quaintance said.

"There was a feeling like anything could happen - that there could be another attack at any moment."

And then the 47-storey World Trade Center 7 collapsed and a fire-fighter screamed "run".

Quaintance said it was a "surreal" feeling running down the street, enveloped in a cloud of smoke and being blanketed in dust.

But they stayed on, updating New Zealand media outlets on what was happening around them.

"We interviewed rescue workers, mainly, as they queued for the payphone to tell their families they were alive. I also remember interviewing a priest who said 'It's Armageddon' which was pretty unsettling."

Quaintance walked home that evening, passing people sitting outside restaurants sipping martinis.

"It sounds odd but I know that New Yorkers felt the need to get out of their apartments, to swap stories, to be part of what was happening and, frankly, to celebrate being alive."

She stayed up all night filing stories and spent the next few days working tirelessly, interviewing Kiwis in New York and relaying their stories back to New Zealand.

It was an experience she never expected to be part of and one she'll never forget.

Quaintance said New York didn't really change in the weeks that followed, but people did deal with the attacks in different ways.

The birth rate went up and survivors suffered from alcoholism.

"But New York is a big city with its own momentum and it is human nature to compartmentalise things and to move on."

Quaintance is now living in Sydney where she works as a magazine editor for Fairfax.

- What do you remember about the 9/11 terror attacks? Post your comments below.

- Stuff

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