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‘America is at war. How quickly can you get in?’

Published: in Australian News by .

As I drove to Channel 9, my mind was racing. I hadn’t yet seen the images that had rocked the world to its core. I didn’t yet know what this day meant.

I'd gone to bed around 9.30 pm as I had an early work start the following morning. This was my daily routine as Director of Australia's Today Show, early to bed, early to rise. As I was just drifting into a deep sleep my wife could hear our answering machine clicking in. There was noise in the background and a hurried voice. What she was saying didn't make sense. Nudging me out of my slumber I reached the answering machine. There were few words, but the message was numbing. "America is at War. They've been attacked. How quickly can you get in?"

As I drove to Channel 9, my mind was racing. I hadn't yet seen the images that had rocked the world to its core. I didn't yet know what this day meant.

The newsroom was already teaming with reporters and camera crews, producers and editors.

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Steve Liebmann during the coverage of the September 11 attacks.

I could see Today anchor Steve Liebmann walking toward me. Liebo and I have worked together for years. He looked stressed. Not on-air reporter stressed, he was a consummate professional. Something else was bothering him. I quickly touched base with him and assured him that we were rushing to get to air but that everything was under control. Of course this was not totally true because no one, no one in our bunker in Willoughby, no one at any of the news, cable and broadcast channels around the world was quite sure of the true depth of what had just happened.

But Liebo's concern was much closer to home. His sister had lived in New York the past 20 years. He been unable to contact her. Mobile phones were still far from the norm and his concern was clear.

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Ally Moore was in the co-host seat that morning. She helped calm and reassure him that his sister would touch base. Just try and focus on the massive job ahead, she told him.

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Moments later, with all the crew in place, we rolled our Today Show opener, filled with the dark and tragic pictures of two planes hitting the Twin Towers in New York. Images that are forever seared into all our minds.

The morning was a mix of adrenalin, and honestly felt like a blur. We had so many incoming pictures from news outlets from around the world, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and affiliates we'd never heard of. After a while it was hard to distinguish what was happening live and what was tape replay from an American network. We flipped from network to network, reporter to reporter, eyewitness to eyewitness with rolling coverage for hours. Wallpapering our screens with the unbelievable events of the day and the ever changing theories behind this infiltration on American soil. Reporter Michael Usher and our US bureau had the country glued to their screens with unrelenting images of a smoking rubble from the streets of Manhattan. Our affiliates in Washington DC and Pennsylvania beamed footage of the horrific events on the ground at the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania field.

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Hijacked United Airlines flight 175 is flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center  September 11, 2001 in New York City.  (Photo by CNN via Getty Images)

Our control room, the technicians directing the satellites and the Producers behind me never missed a beat that morning. Amongst the chaos and the uncertainty, the shouting and the tears, the adrenaline rush and the need to push technology to its limits there was one thing we never lost sight of - the humanity of it all.

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When Liebo's sister finally rang through, we got into Steve's ear piece and told him she was safe. The sense of relief was overwhelming for all of us. All of our emotions were frayed. We may have been thousands of miles away, but our hearts with right there with them.

Twenty years later the images of that day and the emotions felt come back at the mere mention of 9/11. It was a day, a long 22-hour day when technology was stretched to its limit but the human spirit was stretched even more.

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Source: 9News

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