A West Norfolk mother’s keen instincts to get her daughter to safety may have saved their lives as the horror of the September 11 attacks unravelled.
Christine Sweeting used a piece of nylon rope lying on the ground to strap daughter Nikki to her and refused to follow the crowds to shelter underground as debris showered down from the World Trade Center.
She said: “It was like Beirut. Debris was all over. People were screaming.”
Mrs Sweeting had been enjoying a family holiday with Nikki and her late husband Les when they were caught up in one of the most devastating terrorist attacks.
They had been due to return to the UK on September 8 but decided to extend their trip by three days, which included a visit to Liberty Island on September 10 when Mrs Sweeting took a picture of the New York skyline before it was changed forever.
The family was due to spend September 11 visiting Central Park and were getting ready in their hotel room at the Marriott Hotel, which was at the foot of the towers.
Mrs Sweeting remembers her husband tying his shoe laces by the window when they heard a “muffled crash”.
She said: “We looked out and all we could see was this stuff coming down. It was obviously bits of building and paper.
“Then the building shook.”
Mr Sweeting was still tying his laces and told his wife and daughter to get out.
The mother and daughter rushed along a corridor but their way was barred by a guard and the wreckage of American Airline flight 11, which had crashed into the North Tower at 8.46am. She also saw bodies.
Mrs Sweeting and Nikki, who was then aged 24, managed to take another route to the lobby surrounded by a burning smell, which turned out to be fuel from the plane.
Suddenly there was another explosion
Asthma sufferer Mrs Sweeting picked up three cotton napkins which had been laid out on the tables.
Once outside they learned a plane had hit the North Tower. Mrs Sweeting said: “There was no reason why a plane should hit the tower other than due to an accident.”
She looked up to see smoke billowing and as her daughter was about to take a picture, the second plane went over their heads and hit the South Tower just after 9am.
Mrs Sweeting said: “Then we saw people jumping and the top of the building was smoking.
“It’s like you are in a film. Nikki spotted the bodies and I tried to turn her away from it.
“I was looking for my husband.”
They were then showered with large shards of glass from the buildings prompting people to take shelter underground or below cars.
But Mrs Sweeting’s instincts told her not to follow and used a piece of rope to tie her wrist to Nikki’s to ensure they would not be separated as they headed to Battery Park.
But they were told to clear the area for emergency vehicles so they changed course to the Staten Island ferry.
She said: “I looked back at the towers and there was a gaping hole. I thought that one did not look safe and as the words came out of my mouth, the tower collapsed. Then a cloud roared down the street and came at us.”
Mrs Sweeting said the crowd was pushing to get to the ferry, which was rolling as people clung to the side, and decided to hang on to the railing to wait for a second ferry.
She said “We had the napkins around our faces to stop the smoke.
“It was an acrid smoke which burned your eyes.”
Finally the ferry returned and they headed to the Staten Island police station.
They were given trays of doughnuts by officers and briefly held in isolation due to a fear that anthrax had been in the planes.