Americas

‘I sat calling his name and holding phone to my heart after haunting final call’

Eighteen years ago today the world watched in horror as al-Qaeda launched four coordinated terror attacks on the United States.

It was the single deadliest terror attack in the world's history.

September 11, 2001, started like any other Tuesday with people rushing to work in downtown Manhattan, New York.

Just a few hours later 2,996 people had been killed in the atrocity, while a further 6,000 were injured.

The death toll has continued to rise as those who tried to help have fallen victim to 9/11-related cancers and respiratory diseases.

New York's skyline has been forever altered following the collapse of the Twin Towers.

But in their wake a new building, the World Trade Center, now stands proudly above Manhattan – a testament to the resillience of those affected by the atrocity.

A total of 19 al-Qaeda terrorists were involved in the hijacking of four US passenger planes.

Operated by United Airlines and American Airlines, the planes were all leaving from airports in the north east of the country and were bound for San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Two of the planes – American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 – were crashed into the North and South Towers.

Each standing at 110 storeys high and filled with thousands of workers – but within an hour and 45 minutes, both had fallen.

Hundreds of brave firefighters, police officers and other emergency services staff had flooded both buildings in a desperate attempt to get as many people out alive.

Hundreds of the heroic rescue workers lost their lives.

Meanwhile, a third jet – American Airlines Flught 77 – was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon and caused the building to partially collapse.

Passengers on a fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, managed to overcome the hijackers as it was being flown towards Washington.

It crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all on board.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, the world grieved.

The final calls and messages to those trapped inside the Twin Towers or the hijacked planes show the selflessness and bravery of those who were killed on that September day.

Their only thoughts were for their loved ones they were leaving behind.

Melissa Harrington Hughes was only in New York for a single day when she was caught up in the tragedy.

She had travelled from her home in San Francisco and her last call was to her husband, Sean Hughes.

But because of the time difference, he was still in bed and didn't pick up.

Melissa's message says: "I just want to let you know I love you and I'm stuck in this building in New York.

"There's lot of smoke and I just wanted you to know that I love you always."

Beverly Eckert was frantic with worry on the morning on September 11 as her husband, Sean Rooney, was one of the thousands of workers employed in the Twin Towers.

When he called just after 9:30am she was beyond relieved – but it wasn't a call to say he was safe.

Following the atrocity, Beverly said: "He told me he was on the 105th floor and I knew right away that Sean was never coming home.

"After long minutes of talking, he whispered 'I love you' over and over. Then I heard this loud explosion."

Heartbreakingly, Sean was still alive but the couple both knew the noise that had ripped through the building was the sound of the tower collapsing.

Beverly said: "I called his name in the phone over and over. Then I just sat there huddled on the floor holding the phone to my heart."

Melissa Doi had dreamed of becoming a ballerina but after graduating from university she started work at IQ Financial Systems.

On September 11, she was working on the 83rd floor of the South Tower.

In her harrowing final call, Melissa says "It's very hot, I don't see any air any more. All I see is smoke.

"I'm going to die aren't I."

Desperate to calm her, the 911 call handler replies: "No, ma'am, say your prayers. You gotta think positive because you gotta help each other get off the floor."

The calls ends with Melisa saying "please God".

Kevin Cosgrove, a 45-year-old father-of-three was desperately trying to save all of those trapped in the South Tower in his final moments.

He called the emergency services – his call is cut off as only screams and falling debris can be heard.

Fire chief Orio Palmer was just one of the hundreds of firefighters who were killed 18 years ago today.

He had managed to fix a broken lift in one of the towers to help people flee the carnage.

Then, he took the lift to floor 40 and started the long climb up 38 floors while talking to his colleagues on his radio.

Chief Palmer bravely said: "I didn’t hear fear, I didn’t hear panic.

"When the tape is made public to the world, people will hear that they all went about their jobs without fear, and selflessly."

Jim Palmer had been promoted and was spending his last day working in the Twin Towers when the planes hit.

He managed to get through to his pregnant wife, Jill, and their daughter, two.

In his call Jim said: "There’s a fire. I love you, tell Nicole ‘I love you’. I don’t know if I’m going to be OK. I love you so much."

One of the flight attendants on Flight 93 – the only one not to hit its target – CeeCee Lyles tried to call her husband twice from the doomed plane.

The mum-of-four was among the brave crew and passengers who overpowered the hijackers.

Heartbreakingly, her police officer husband had just come off a night shift and did not hear the phone ring.

All he had left of his heroic wife was a devastating voicemail message.

In it, CeeCee said: "Hi baby, baby you have to listen to me carefully. I'm on a plane that's been hijacked, I'm calling from the plane.

"I want to tell you that I love you. Please tell my children that I love them very much and I'm so sorry baby.

"I don't know what to say. There's three guys, they've hijacked the plane, we're turned around and I heard that there's planes that have been flown into the World Trade Centre.

"I hope to see your face again, baby. I love you."

Brian Sweeney knew he wasn't coming home when he left his wife, Julie, his final voice message.

He was a passenger on Flight 175, which was flown into the South Tower.

In it, Brian says: "Jules, this is Brian. Listen I'm on an airplane that's been hijacked.

"If things don't go well, and it's not looking good, I just want you to know that I absolutely love you.

"I want you to do good, go and have good times – same to my parents and everybody.

"I just totally love you and I'll see you when you get there.

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