Dahler: `I’ve seen things that no one should ever see’

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

ABC News correspondent Don Dahler lives in a third-floor apartment on Church Street, just four blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. On the morning of the 11th he was standing at his west-facing window, sipping coffee and looking directly at the tall and graceful twin towers, when he heard what he thought was the unmistakable shriek of an incoming missile.
He knew the sound. A 20-year veteran journalist, he had been to war zones, from Beirut to Uganda to Kosovo.
“I heard the first jet scream overhead. I thought it was a missile. I moved towards the window.”
As he watched, a huge plane smashed into one of the towers. There was a fireball and a massive explosion. Smoke poured from a gaping hole in the building.
“The television was on, and I heard Diane [Sawyer on `Good Morning America’] saying, `We’ve just gotten reports … of a small plane hitting the World Trade Center,’ and honestly I knew it wasn’t a small plane.”
Mr. Dahler got on the phone and stepped outside on his fire escape.
Within moments, he was hooked up live on “GMA.”
“That’s literally where I reported from for hours,” Mr. Dahler said.
From his perch on the fire escape, he witnessed the second hijacked airliner slicing into the second 110-story tower, and then watched as the two towers crumbled, one after the other. Finally, as a dust cloud from the collapse boiled by, he ducked inside and closed his window.
After nearly 60 hours awake, grabbing catnaps and trying not to nod off between live shots, Mr. Dahler took time out to call a reporter from a satellite truck parked six blocks from ground zero.
“I’ve seen things that no one should ever see,” Mr. Dahler said wearily.
A few hours after the collapse, a federal agent he knew got him within a half-block of the still-burning rubble. “I saw bodies and what appeared to be body parts. I saw firemen who were crying at the horror of what they were seeing,” and others crying out of frustration because they couldn’t save their fallen comrades.
His single most horrifying vision, Mr. Dahler recalled, was the sight of people throwing themselves off the buildings. That started almost immediately after the raging fire from the first impact.
“These tiny figures were throwing themselves off, and you could see their arms cartwheeling,” Mr. Dahler said. “It was just horrific.”
The night after the tragedy, walking through the darkened streets of a lower Manhattan that had become eerily reminiscent of war-torn Beirut, he noticed three huddled figures on the porch of a restaurant. Moving closer, he realized that the figures were two sleeping policemen and a dog.
He didn’t want to wake them, he said, but found them again later and learned they were two volunteer police officers from Illinois with their trained rescue dog. They had driven to New York City on their own initiative to help.
“They’re asleep now in my apartment,” Mr. Dahler said.