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Revisiting the apocalypse

New aerial photographs of the 9/11 attacks on New York were released today. The chilling snaps offer an overview from the heavens of the burning twin towers and the apocalyptic shroud of smoke and dust that settled over the city.

The images were taken from a police helicopter -- the only photographers allowed in the airspace near the skyscrapers on September 11, 2001.

The chief curator of the planned September 11 museum pronounced the pictures "a phenomenal body of work".

They are "some of the most exceptional images in the world, I think, of this event".

In some of the pictures, the tops of the nearby Woolworth Building and other skyscrapers can just be seen above the enormous cloud of debris, gray against a clear blue sky.

"Looking at it now it's amazing I took those pictures. The images are ... stunning," said Greg Semendinger, the former New York Police Department detective who took the pictures.

The attack and the collapse of the World Trade Center were well documented on live TV and amateur video. But more than eight years on the images still have the power to shock and disturb.

Semendinger was first in the air in a search for survivors on the rooftop. He said he and his pilot watched the second plane hit the south tower.

"We didn't find one single person. It was surreal," he said. "There was no sound. No sound whatsoever, but the noise of the radio and the helicopter. I just kept taking pictures."