Friday, May 20

Ground Zero Redux

In few short months from now Americans will pause to remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001. As the tenth anniversary this year’s remembrance will carries greater significance than usual. With the date rapidly approaching, construction workers are laboring to complete a new national memorial at Ground Zero in New York. An accompanying museum will open next year on the 11th anniversary.

The memorial consists of two square waterfalls set within the footprint of twin towers. The waterfalls will cascade into the reflecting pools before finally disappearing into a gaping central void. Surrounding the waterfalls is a cobblestone plaza filled with more than 300 oak trees. The trees were selected from a 500-mile radius of Ground Zero in acknowledgment of the area directly impacted by 9/11.

When I visited Lower Manhattan last week I was surprised to see how much progress had already been made. The oak trees are already in place and the framework for bronze panels surrounding the memorial falls is rapidly taking shape. Elsewhere on the site construction is well underway for two high-rise towers, the first of eight new buildings and a new soaring transportation hub terminal.

By far the tallest of these is 1 WTC, formerly known as Freedom Tower. It will ultimately rise to 105 stories and stand 1776 feet high, taller than the North Tower of the original twin towers. Construction is well advanced. The framework has reached 68 stories, while the glass facade installation had reached the 40th floor. Nearby the memorial museum’s external façade is nearing completion. The foreboding, empty hole that once dominated Lower Manhattan is rapidly disappearing.

With the tenth anniversary approaching the recent news of Osama bin Laden’s death was all the more symbolic. As the architect of the most deadly foreign attack on American soil since the War of Independence his death had been long sought. He was ultimately killed on May 1 by a team of elite Navy Seals as I flew over the Pacific en route to San Francisco. This meant that I found myself in America as the media reacted to this cathartic milestone in the nation's history. For the next week every available news channel was inundated with mind-numbing analysis of Osama's life, his clinical death and the men ultimately responsible for his demise.

The saturation coverage bought back some stark memories. I still recall where I was when CNN first crossed live to New York shortly after the first plane struck the North Tower on the morning of September 11. I was sitting in Hong Kong hotel room at the time after returning from dinner with a work colleague.  I'd literally switched on the television moments earlier and was settling in for the evening. I distinctly recall watching the second plane fly into the South Tower live on air. Moments before impact I’d noticed its proximity to the tower, its presence seemingly unnoticed by CNN commentators. Within seconds the tower exploded and the rest is history.

A few days later I found myself flying home to Australia on what was to become Ansett Australia’s last flight from Hong Kong. As we flew through the night the airline went bankrupt. As a result, when the aircraft doors were opened in Sydney, the crew was greeted by news that their jobs had disappeared. It wasn’t until I arrived home that it dawned on me how close I’d come to being stranded in Hong Kong with worthless airline ticket. I consider myself privileged to be able to witness so many historic events in such a personal manner. I guess my job, despite its stress, has some unusual perks.

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