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Plane crash brings back 9/11 memories

The nightmare of of New Yorkers returned with a jolt when a small plane crashed into a high rise building.

india Updated: Oct 12, 2006 11:12 IST

The nightmare of millions of New Yorkers returned with a jolt when a small plane crashed into a high rise building in New York City on Wednesday.

The residents of the city were reminded of the terror that came bursting out of the clear blue sky in the form of two fully loaded passenger planes that had killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center towers on Sep 11, 2001.

The "sound of a bomb," then a fire ball. Thick black clouds of smoke. Then screams. Sirens. Eyes searching the heavens: Can anyone see a second plane?

Stocks dipped on the New York Stock Exchange as traders saw the images on television screens. People on the Upper East Side, where the plane hit, went "screaming and running," eyewitness Rich Behar told Fox News.

"The street was filled with black smoke from street level to the sky, which of course reminded me of five years ago," Behar said. "The building's burning on top, there was chaos on the street."

A sigh of relief, stocks bounced back soon after the crash at 2.42 p.m., as officials in Washington and New York hastened to reassure that it did not appear to be a terrorist attack.

But the reaction and fear in the streets unveiled once more how indelible the memories are of Sep 11, 2001. In the weeks after those attacks, the city was laid lame as family members and friends mourned their losses.

On Wednesday, Manhattan was once more in shock.

With one hit, the crash of a plane flown by top New York Yankees baseball pitcher Cory Lidle threw the city into top alarm status.

Hundreds of police officers and firefighters closed down the accident scene and surrounding area. Wailing sirens filled the urban canyons.

Helicopters circled above skyscrapers. People stopped still in the street, unsure and appalled.

The message moved slowly through the city that this time, there were no terrorists at the plane controls. But almost immediately, Admiral Tim Keating, chief of US Northern Command, dispatched combat jets to cities around the United States and Canada, after seeing news of the crash.

New York Governor Pataki greeted the fighter-jet deployment.

"We're engaged in a war, and we just have to continue being vigilant," Pataki told Fox News.

Miraculously, no one inside the building was killed - not even two people who were in one of the apartments of the luxury 50-storey building hit by the plane. But they were "a little shaken," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had talked to the residents.

"We think we're very lucky that it wasn't anything more than two people" dead, Bloomberg said.

Residents of the 50-storey luxury building - the Belair on 524 East 72nd Street, where a penthouse is for sale for $4.8 million - were evacuated through elevators.

In the nearby UN headquarters, diplomats and workers from around the world were sent messages via loudspeakers not to panic. There was no reason to worry. An evacuation was not necessary.

A pilot who was an eyewitness on the ground told CNN he watched as the plane banked "very steeply" and was "manoeuvring so low to the ground."

"It looked desperate to get back to an airport," Henry Neimark told CNN. "One doesn't do steep banks and steep manoeuvres so close to the ground ... which can cause a stall."

First Published: Oct 12, 2006 01:19 IST