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Witnesses to the moment: Workers' voices

From the ground, the vantage point of witnesses in New York, the World Trade Center towers appeared as smoking monoliths -- before they collapsed.
From the ground, the vantage point of witnesses in New York, the World Trade Center towers appeared as smoking monoliths -- before they collapsed.  

By Porter Anderson
CNN Career

(CNN) -- Here are several of the most compelling remarks made by witnesses on Tuesday as everyone struggled to understand what was happening in New York and Washington.

One witness is an employee in downtown New York who found herself among the thousands suddenly ordered by Mayor Rudi Giuliani to head for north of Canal Street.

Another is a pilot -- he was uptown and in a building from which he could look south toward the World Trade Center.

graphic It's not easy to be a coherent, observant witness in times of massive stress and danger. How good at it would you be?

I'd manage. I have a cool head.
I'm not sure -- the tension would be amazing.
I'm afraid I'd cave. My hat's off to good, articulate witnesses.
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A third was trying to get to work in Washington, driving northeast toward the Potomac River, when she saw a plane coming in "too fast, too low."

Back in New York, an aviation department employee with Port Authority was on the 65th floor of one of the World Trade Center towers when the attack -- that eventually would topple those towers -- began at 8:48 a.m. EDT.

And then, in Washington, USA Today's Mike Walter watched, astonished, as an American Airlines jet flew into the Pentagon.

First, the pilot in New York.

'We saw the plane veer'

Midtown Manhattan, a man identified as a pilot tells CNN:

A pilot spoke to CNN about how he watched the first plane making its approach to the World Trade Center.
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"This morning we were at Midtown Manhattan on the 31st floor of a building facing south. We saw a (Boeing) 767 flying low down the center of the island of Manhattan, heading toward downtown Manhattan. About, maybe, 20 blocks north of the World Trade Center, we saw the plane veer to the left and fly directly into the north side of the south tower. This was the first plane, a 767."

'Jumping out the window right now'

Downtown Manhattan, a woman near the World Trade Center, tells WABC-TV:

A woman in Lower Manhattan told CNN affiliate WABC what she saw.
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"We heard a big bang. Everybody started running out and we saw the plane on the other side of the building and there was smoke everywhere and people were jumping out of windows, they were jumping out of the windows. ... Everybody was wondering where to go, everything was blocked off by security, they told us to get out but there was nowhere to go. I don't know ... Then I heard that another plane hit. And if you go over, you can see people jumping out the window, they're jumping out the window right now. Oh, my God."

'Coming too fast, too low'

Washington, a woman who was driving into the city on Interstate 395 as the Pentagon was attacked:

CNN heard from a woman who was driving into the capital city on Tuesday morning at the time a plane was nearing the Pentagon.
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"As we were driving into town on 395, there was exit -- we were trying to get off the exit for the Memorial Bridge. Off to the left-hand side was a commercial plane that came in -- it was coming too fast, too low. And the next thing we saw was it go down below the side of the road, and we just saw the fire that came up after that."

'Don't look back, don't look back'

New York, Matthew Cornelous, who found himself trapped in the World Trade Center as the attacks began:

"Sixty-fifth floor, that's where I work. I arrived at work a little bit early today -- I work for the Port Authority aviation department. I was just putting my stuff away and all of a sudden, we heard a loud crash. The building started shaking, kind of moving like a wave.

Matthew Cornelous, a Port Authority aviation department employee, was in the World Trade Center as the attacks began.
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"I had no idea. We figured either an airplane had hit it or -- our first instinct was an airplane. Everybody started screaming, 'Move away from the windows, let's get out of here.' And we saw debris fall past the window on the north side.

"We really had no idea at all what had happened until we exited the building. We took the stairs. ... We made it pretty fast down to the 40th floor. And from there, the smoke got a little bit thick and it was a lot slower. We made it about a floor every two minutes.

"... It was packed, it was a virtual traffic jam in the staircase. Up and down. It was very full.

"Everybody maintained calm really well, I was impressed with that. I think for some people it brought back memories of the (1993) bombing, people who'd been there before when that happened.

"But I was amazed, really. We got into the stairway, we were moving down. The fire department, when we were coming out, said, 'Move to the left, move to the left.' Everyone complied.

"A couple of people started crying a little. But we said, 'We're going to get out of here, we just have to take it one step at a time. It wasn't quiet, people were talking -- in fact someone was laughing, I was hearing that, I thought that was strange. But it was pretty normal. We didn't know what was going on.

A major portion of the World Trade Center collapses.
A major portion of the World Trade Center collapses.  

"We didn't really understand the full severity of the situation, so people weren't panicking. Once we got down, they put us on the plaza level, which was disturbing. There was a lot of debris in the plaza level, a lot of carnage, basically.

"We moved out the back toward Broadway. The police were saying, 'Don't look back, don't look back. And of course, we made it about half a block and I saw the other tower on fire and I couldn't believe it.

"... We never had any fear of the building collapse. ...It's still sinking in, the full severity of it. ... I'm very lucky. I thank God very much."

'It was just sheer terror'

Washington, Mike Walter, USA Today, on the road when a jet slammed into the Pentagon:

USA Today's Mike Walter was driving near the Pentagon when he saw an American Airlines jet fly directly into the country's military nerve center.
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"I was sitting in the northbound on 27 and the traffic was, you know, typical rush-hour -- it had ground to a standstill. I looked out my window and I saw this plane, this jet, an American Airlines jet, coming. And I thought, 'This doesn't add up, it's really low.'

"And I saw it. I mean it was like a cruise missile with wings. It went right there and slammed right into the Pentagon.

"Huge explosion, great ball of fire, smoke started billowing out. And then it was chaos on the highway as people tried to either move around the traffic and go down, either forward or backward.

"We had a lady in front of me, who was backing up and screaming, 'Everybody go back, go back, they've hit the Pentagon.'

"It was just sheer terror."


• America Under Attack: Complete coverage

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