The big square television sat on the end of the desk. A fixture normally unnoticed as it churned out a daily diet of rolling ‘news’
Today would soon be different
“A plane has hit the World Trade Centre” our deputy picture editor, Terry McGourty, exclaimed as the first pictures appeared.
It was lunchtime in Edinburgh, a quiet Tuesday, and the first plane had struck the North Tower at 12:46 our time. We stood and gathered around the television, A light aircraft? A tourist helicopter? We tried to guess what had happened, not ready for the previously unimaginable nightmare that was to unfold in front of us.
In New York, the cameras were focused on the symbolic towers that completed the Manhattan skyline. At 09:03, less than 20 minutes after the first, a second plane, United Airlines flight 175, crashed into the South Tower.
The room was quiet, clusters of people gathered together, silently. In shock.
The unthinkable had happened, the magnitude was unsaid. We all knew this was a significant day, minds were already racing, but we had no information. Not yet.
We returned to our monitors, our windows on the world, where soon, pictures would come that would define our memories and immortalise this day.
More news was breaking from Washington, half an hour since the Trade Centre attacks, American Airlines flight 77, crashed into The Pentagon, killing 184 people including 59 passengers and crew on the plane. Shortly after, the passengers of Flight 93 begin a revolt and that plane crashed in Pennsylvania, possibly preventing an attack on The White House itself.
Alongside our picture editor, Alan Macdonald, we monitored the feeds of pictures. New York, home to some of the world’s biggest photo agencies, the finest photographers - back then not everybody carried a camera, the smartphone wasn’t a ‘thing’ – everybody had scrambled. Fashion photographers, it was New York Fashion Week, worked alongside sports photographers, alongside news photographers to record the dramatic, traumatic, consequences of hijacked aeroplanes flying into 1,350 ft tall skyscrapers.
An incredible image arrived. Spencer Platt of Getty images had run across Brooklyn Bridge, raising his camera to take some more frames, “I didn’t hear the second plane and I certainly didn’t see it” In among those frames was an image that would help us understand the enormity of what had taken place, the huge fireball at the moment of impact. “I was overwhelmed with thirst, I was just shocked at everything and my throat went dry” he later said.
Our news pages were cleared, the copy boy loaded the printers and tables were emptied to make room for the prints. Everything A3. The scale of the disaster needed to be fully seen
The wires were starting to move more quickly now, more and more pictures flooding into the system.
We probably received more than 70,000 images that day, when we look back though, it is maybe a dozen that we remember most clearly.
The whole situation, already incredulous, took another turn when the buildings collapsed.
Pictures arrived of people fleeing the scene, a giant cloud of dust and debris chasing them down the street, finding its way into every crack.
The aftermath revealed people covered head to toe, pavements, cars, everything thick with dust. A businessman painted white still carrying his briefcase.
A fireman making his way up the stairs of the tower as sweat soaked workers filed down the stairs fleeing for their lives. Does he survive? Mike Kehoe did survive, 343 of his fellow firefighters died that day.
President George W Bush is informed while sitting in a class full of primary school age children.
In a scene reminiscent of US marines in Iwo Jima, New Jersey photographer, Thomas E Franklin, captures the moment three New York firefighters raise the Stars and Stripes over Ground Zero
In the days that follow the dust settles and the sun shines through the mangled wreckage.
The paper is pulled together. Pictures are chosen and headlines are written.
We have witnessed the start of a war that may never end.
In a reference to President Roosvelt the day after Pearl Harbour, The Scotsman headline reads – The Date Which Will Live in Infamy