Dramatic new photos show true horror of the 9/11 attacks
These dramatic overhead photographs of the World Trade Centre attack, released yesterday, were taken by a New York police helicopter pilot as he searched in vain for people on the burning roofs.
Detective Greg Semendinger, now retired, yesterday told reporters that he took off from Floyd Bennett airfield in Brooklyn immediately after the first hijacked airliner slammed into one of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
"The call that first came in was that a light aircraft or private plane had hit the tower. But when I went outside the hangar I could see something bigger had happened," he said.
Det Semendinger and his co-pilot headed towards the World Trade Centre.
"We were there when the second plane hit. We did not see the plane coming but we saw the explosion," he said.
With his co-pilot at the controls, the helicopter began flying in an L-shaped pattern looking for people who might have made it to the roof of one of the twin towers.
After the earlier bombing of the World Trade Centre in 1993, Det Semendinger had been the first helicopter pilot to respond and had lifted a pregnant woman from the roof. This time his Bell JetRanger helicopter lacked a hoist, but he hoped to guide larger helicopters to rescue people from the roofs of the blazing buildings.
The huge plume of smoke, however, made the job impossible. "We never even saw the roof of the South Tower. If anyone did make it to the roof we could not see them," he said.
The pilots heard reports over the radio of people jumping or falling off the building but were too far off to understand what was happening.
"We saw things falling but we were too far away to realise they were people," he said. In the air for three hours, Det Semendinger took three rolls of 36 stills with his own Minolta Maxxum 7000 camera and another 245 with a digital Olympus. He gave his photographs -- some of which had already leaked to the internet -- to the 9/11 commission.
From there they made their way to the National Institute of Standards and Technology as part of its inquiry into the collapse of the buildings.
ABC News obtained them this week among 2,779 pictures released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. (© The Times, London)