19 years ago my wife and I were in our room at the Hilton hotel in Paris, it had a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower.
It was a beautiful, clear day.
On the morning of September 11th. (early afternoon in France) the phone in our room rang. It was my office at NBC news in New York telling me to watch the TV…now. I turned it on just in time to see the 2nd tower get hit by an airplane.
Almost instantly there was a knock at my door. 2 members of the gendarmerie and an armed military team were there telling us that all the Americans in the hotel were in danger, and would we please gather in the lobby for a briefing.
Thus began a sleepless 3 day journey to get back to the States, to witness the aftermath of the most tragic and transformative moment of modern time.
We learned that the Eurostar was shut due to Afghan immigrants blocking the tracks, and that the flights out of Paris to London were not an option. All the flights to the states we’re also about to get locked down. Air space near the strike zones was closed to civilian aircraft.
By now, it’s 2 hours since the first tower was hit, and we were done trying to figure out an easy way to get back.
My wife and I decided to make our own way to the ferry and try to get to Calais, then on the boat to Dover, as quickly as possible. The direct train routes to Calais were not an option so we decided to hop the first local train anywhere, and try to work our way west.
We ended up traveling on 4 trains going in all different directions through the French countryside, in cars full of smoking college kids, single mothers and their little children, and families huddling together.
The mood was quiet and somber. We made some friends, we consoled some people, and were consoled by others. Everyone seemed to be in a perpetual state of shock. Even though we didn’t know much, the pictures told the story.
We finally got to Calais 8 hours later. Dirty, tired, and hungry.
After a long wait in a local B&B we finally got on a ferry To the U.K. around midnight. A bit more than an hour and a half later we were in a black cab heading to Richmond On Thames, and a relatives home. We arrived around 2am BST. and finally got some rest.
We got up around 4a On the 12th and headed to Heathrow airport, and were lucky enough to get seats on one of the last flights out to the states. We sat in the lounge for most of the day until wheels up later that night.
By the time we we arrived in the states, the airspace ban had been lifted. We flew close enough to The City, 8 hours later, to see the smoke still rising into the hazy sky.(file photo)
3 days on the road beginning on 9/11.
It’s now after 7 in the morning on the 13th. of September 2001, in New York, the epicentre.
Nobody on the plane spoke. Everyone remained respectfully quiet. Many cried.
The journey wasn’t over when we landed, the real work had only just begun.