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Sep 11, 2009  •  eight years on..

Somewhat unbelievably, on the morning of september 14, 2001, I found myself onboard the very first international flight to land on american soil following the 9/11 world trade centre tragedy. This, after a harrowing three days exiled at Heathrow, in what had become a refugee camp of thousands of stranded in-transit passengers, unable to complete their journeys home or abroad (in my case, being airborne from casablanca to NYC as the events unfolded). It was a scene of confusion and chaos with intense feelings of anxiety and helplessness as only a trickling of details began to circulate in the terminal during an era before wi-fi or smartphones. However, and unbeknownst to us clamouring travellers, this backdrop was just a pallid juxtaposition to the armageddon on the streets surrounding ground zero in Manhattan.

Part of the security measures to permit embarkation on this maiden voyage included an absence of in-flight meals, magazines or movies. Any sort of carry-on effects, aside from the clothes on your back, were prohibited. I suppose at the time, no one was really in the mood for snacks or flipping the pages of Vogue anyway. As an added safeguard, the flight was phantom-numbered, ie: it never 'existed' and our cabin was chaperoned by two heavily-armed US marshalls sitting two rows ahead of me. Once we were seated and began taxiing, all runway, outboard, and in-cabin lights shut off posthaste and the near-empty British Airways 747 ascended under the complete cover of darkness amid some very tense feelings onboard.

doomsday visas • casablanca, london, new york    © marc montebello all rights reserved doomsday visas • casablanca, london, new york
Even now, it remains difficult to shut out the sight of the smouldering skyline before the plane touched down early morning at Kennedy International on Sept 14. Indeed, the shock that this image came to symbolise for me continues to be unfathomable for everyone.

On the streets of Lower Manhattan later that day, I needed to witness the devastation and got as close as was possible to ground zero (without official clearance). Aside from an uncharacteristic quietness, there wasn't much to observe through the heavy particulate smog of the aftermath and without a face mask, breathing was a struggle. But just around the corner from the ruins of the South Tower I noticed these men praying for fallen comrades and snapped this image.
sept 14, 2001 • world trade center, NYC'    © marc montebello all rights reserved

sept 14, 2001 • world trade center, NYC

© MARC MONTEBELLO  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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