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20th anniversary of 9/11: Remembering Suffolk lives lost in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York in 2001




On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, thousands of people entered the World Trade Center in New York City’s financial district, ready to begin another day at the office.

But what started out like any other day, with a coffee and commute, soon became one which shook the world, changed lives forever and saw people across the globe mourn the thousands killed in what are still the deadliest terrorist attacks in history.

At 8.46am, in what was first thought to be a tragic accident, a plane crashed into the North Tower.

The north face of Two World Trade Center (South Tower) immediately after being struck by United Airlines Flight 175. Picture: Wikipedia/Creative Commons
The north face of Two World Trade Center (South Tower) immediately after being struck by United Airlines Flight 175. Picture: Wikipedia/Creative Commons

But the reality of the situation became clear when, just 17 minutes later, as the whole world watched, a second plane ploughed into the South Tower.

Both 110-storey buildings, known as the Twin Towers, collapsed in less than two hours, but in the seconds and minutes following the blasts, everyone’s thoughts went to the thousands of people inside the buildings who would be terrified, trapped, dying.

Through the smoke and flames, people could be seen waving for help from the highest windows, with some even having jumped to their deaths; the heat just too much to bear.

Rescue and recovery operation underway after the 9/11 attacks. Picture: 9/11 Memorial & Museum/Roberto Rabanne
Rescue and recovery operation underway after the 9/11 attacks. Picture: 9/11 Memorial & Museum/Roberto Rabanne

Among those fighting for their lives were three Suffolk men; Martin Wortley, from Woolpit, and brothers Andrew and Timothy Gilbert, from Ipswich, who were all working for financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald.

All three men died on the highest levels of the North Tower, above where the plane hit, trying to escape the fiery fumes, heat and smoke rising from the floors below.

Just days after the attacks, Martin’s relatives spoke to The Guardian and recalled his last moments on September 11 as he desperately tried to find a route to safety.

They told of his chilling phone calls to his twin brother Paul and their mother Celia, while he and his colleagues attempted to reach the roof from the 102nd floor, as they hoped a rescue helicopter would be coming - a hope we now know was in vain.

Martin Wortley, of Woolpit, died in the 9/11 attacks aged 29. Picture: Facebook/Morva Wortley
Martin Wortley, of Woolpit, died in the 9/11 attacks aged 29. Picture: Facebook/Morva Wortley

His family tried to reassure 29-year-old Martin that firefighters were on the way, but his last words before being cut off were of someone who had accepted his fate: “Be strong - I love you all.”

Martin’s step-grandmother Morva Wortley said: “He told his mother he couldn't breathe and couldn't get downstairs because of the heat, so they were going up in the hope of getting on the roof.

"His brother tried to keep him alive by saying the fire department were on their way. But I don't think Martin thought he was going to make it. He said: 'I'm going up on to the roof', but we don't think he could have got that far.

After the attack on 9/11, the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center in New York disappear under a thick cloud of smoke. Picture: PA
After the attack on 9/11, the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center in New York disappear under a thick cloud of smoke. Picture: PA

"By the time he called he had gone from his offices on the 102nd floor to the 105th floor. He had got up three floors in the heat and smoke of that building, but there were several more to go. He said he was really struggling, although he was a strong guy and very fit."

More than 3,000 miles away in Suffolk, all Mrs Wortley and her husband Ronnie could do was wait.

Helpless and in horror, they watched as the tower in which their young grandson was stuck was reduced to nothing.

Rescue workers climb a mountain of debris on Thursday, September 13, 2001 in New York City. Picture: PA
Rescue workers climb a mountain of debris on Thursday, September 13, 2001 in New York City. Picture: PA

"We thought people would be getting out by helicopter even though there was this terrible fire, but it was like a missile hitting the building,” she said.

"If he had gone out and been killed on the motorbike he had always wanted, I think we would have been able to cope with that but his only error here was being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

With Martin would have been his colleagues and fellow countrymen Andrew and Timothy, about whose last moments little is known.

9/11 memorial site, New York. Picture: 9/11 Memorial & Museum
9/11 memorial site, New York. Picture: 9/11 Memorial & Museum

With just a few years between them, the brothers had made the move halfway across the world around three years before, and both settled in New Jersey with their wives and children.

Many tributes have been paid to the brothers, who attended St Joseph's College in Ipswich, in the 20 years since they died, with Andrew, 39, described as ‘one of the really good guys’.

Another of Andrew's friends said he was 'a kind and generous person' who was 'truly brilliant at everything he tried'.

Timothy, who was 35 when he died, was married with four children and lived with his family in Lebanon, New Jersey.

In a tribute to the brothers, one friend said: "As the years pass since 9/11, I remember you with gratitude and a feeling of loss that you passed so young.

"My thoughts go out to your wonderful parents that had to suffer what must have been unbearable. The loss of two children.”

In Memoriam walls at the 9/11 Museum. Picture: 9/11 Memorial & Museum/Jin Lee
In Memoriam walls at the 9/11 Museum. Picture: 9/11 Memorial & Museum/Jin Lee

It wasn't just the towers in New York which were targeted by terrorists, with a plane having crashed into the Pentagon at 9.37am.

Another plane, which it is believed was intended to hit The White House or the United States Capitol, crashed in a Pennsylvania field at 10.03am after the passengers on board fought the four hijackers to try and regain control of the plane.

A coroner ruled that all 44 people on board - including 37 passengers and seven crew members - died instantly.

Martin, Andrew and Timothy were just three of 2,977 people killed on September 11, 2001. It was a day which left 25,000 more injured and countless others numb, fearful and heartbroken.

Twenty years on from that fateful day, and many around the globe will be pausing today to remember those whose lives were cut short on 9/11.

Tribute in Light for 9/11 in New York. Picture: 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Tribute in Light for 9/11 in New York. Picture: 9/11 Memorial & Museum

Among them will be airmen and women at RAF Lakenheath, who will take part in a ceremony commemorating 20 years since the terrorist attacks.

"The significance of the 9/11 attacks is not lost after twenty years and we still mourn for those who were lost that day," a spokesman said.

"As Americans, as service members, and as Airmen, we have an obligation to honor the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

Floral tributes to 9/11 victims at Ground Zero memorial in New York. Picture: 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Floral tributes to 9/11 victims at Ground Zero memorial in New York. Picture: 9/11 Memorial & Museum

The ceremony will include a moment of silence for the victims, with their names being read aloud and a flag folding ceremony.

And during the day, teams will take part in a Remembrance 'Ruck' , which will see them take it in turns to carry the American flag whilst wearing backpacks weighing up to 80lbs and walking around a running track for 20 hours in total.

Meanwhile, relatives of the thousands of victims have been invited to a ceremony in New York's Memorial Plaza - the former site of the Twin Towers - to mark the 20th anniversary of a date none of them will ever forget.

The 9/11 memorial in New York. Picture: Rebekah Chilvers
The 9/11 memorial in New York. Picture: Rebekah Chilvers

Reporting by Rhoda Morrison and Rebekah Chilvers

Read more: All the latest news from Suffolk