KTTV 70: September 11, 2001 — Looking back at America's worst terrorist attack

Our KTTV 70 series looks at the biggest moments of the past seventy years in the Southland and the terrorist attacks on September 11 is one of our darkest chapters.

It was any other Tuesday — September 11, 2001. A sunny and beautiful New York day — until it wasn't.

American Airlines Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles from Boston, was commandeered by hijackers and crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower.

Approximately 20 minutes later... another plane — United Flight 175 — crashed into the World Trade Center's South Tower.

Suggested: September 11, 2001: 2,977 lives were lost in a day during the worst terror attack on US soil

"There's a second plane that just crashed into the World Trade Center. I think we have a terrorist act of proportions we can not begin to imagine at this juncture. Oh my God... my goodness," a reported said following the second attack.

The south tower collapsed less than an hour after being hit, and the north tower fell about 30 minutes later. In all, 2,597 people inside and near the towers were killed, along with the 157 people aboard the flights.

Another hijacked plane flew into the Pentagon in Washington — American Airlines Flight 77 — 184 people lost their lives.

The final hijacked plane — United Airlines Flight 93 — crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The plane crashed into a field, killing the 40 passengers and crew members aboard. It is believed that the passengers and crew attempted to retake control of the flight deck when the hijackers crashed the plane in that location, rather than their unknown target.

A first responder looks up during rescue efforts during the 9/11 terror attacks on the Twin Towers. Photograph is from 8 rolls of unedited film taken by an anonymous photojournalist at ground zero that day. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs)

With America under attack, The White House was evacuated, so were the U.S. Capitol and the State Department. America was put — in effect — on lockdown.

FOX 11 reporters fanned out across the Southland.

John Schwada was in Westwood.

"We're at the Federal Building in Westwood. As you can see there are a number of FBI agents - heavily armed - who have surrounded the building," he reported.

Rick Lozano caught up with Los Angeles Police Department Chief Bernard Parks.

"Are there any terrorist threats against Los Angeles at this time?" Lozano asked Parks. 

"We have none that we can report, but we are certainly cognizant of the potential," Parks replied.

The LAPD was placed on a citywide tactical alert and at Los Angeles International Airport, travel came to a screeching halt.

"We have Lt. Howard Whitehead with us, please give us the very latest about evacuations here at LAX?" said reporter Lisa Breckenridge.

"Right now we're evacuating the whole airport other than key employees," Whitehead replied.

It was a precautionary measure. There were no immediate threats to the Los Angeles area, but back in New York, reporters had a tough job.

"I immediately called my mom and I remember her begging me not to go to work and I said... this is what I have to do."

FOX 11's Sandra Endo, who worked back then for a local New York news channel, headed into the danger zone. She recounted the story in this new interview with FOX 11 reporter Hal Eisner for our KTTV 70 series:

"I was living right by the 59th Street Bridge. Taxi cabs were trying to get out of the city. Everyone was fleeing by foot across the bridge," Endo recalled.

She knew this was the biggest breaking news story she had ever confronted. 

"This appears to be the most direct terrorist attack on US soil in our history. In our 250 year history here in the United States. This is an awful, awful tragedy that's transpiring right in front of us," a Fox News anchor reported.

FOX 11's Bob DeCastro, who was also interviewed for this KTTV 70 series, was working for FOX 5 in New York at the time and like many reporters, he was trying to come to grips with what was happening all around him. 

Just a few days earlier, DeCastro was at a park below the Twin Towers.

"... looking up at these giant buildings and just a couple of weeks earlier I had done an event at the top of that building and to think they were no longer there was just a surreal experience," DeCastro recalled. "I remember seeing what was the huge cloud of dust. It looked like everything had been completely pulverized. I thought it looked like a war zone. It was completely desolate. There was nobody walking around except emergency crews."

"Imagine the 405 Freeway with no cars. That was how Manhattan was like," Endo explained. "Nobody trusted any kind of transportation. We didn't know if it was safe to take a subway. There could have been a chemical gas attack. Anything could have happened."

The streets of New York were filled with two feet of ash.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 11: Police officer Mike Brennan helps a distraught woman known only as Beverly, as ash and debris cover the area following the collapse of 1 World Trade Center (north tower) - the aftermath of a terrorist attack. 2 World Tra (Getty Images)

"You would see people caked with ash and grime and grit. And, you realized that somehow they made it out alive," Endo recalled. "It looked like we were trudging through snow, but it was ash and ash... it was debris from buildings. But, when you looked close I saw bank checks. I saw somebody's hospital billing. I saw a calendar. I saw a baby rattle. It was all things that blew out of buildings."

"Tons and tons of paper that was scattered all over the place and I thought to myself — why didn't any of this paper burn? It was just paper. There was paper all over the place. And, I'd find myself picking up pieces of paper and reading it... trading orders... and notes left from one coworker to another and thinking these were people... two people talking to each other and wondering if these people had made it," DeCastro said.

"Families were walking around from hospital to hospital looking for their loved ones that's when it hits you the most."

"This is possibly the worst terrorist act ever in humankind," a Fox News anchor said.

The rubble of the World Trade Center smoulders following a terrorist attack September 11, 2001 in New York. A hijacked plane crashed into and destroyed the landmark structure. (Photo by Porter Gifford/Corbis via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

A country — rising from the ashes of the worst attack ever on U.S. soil. In all, 2,977 victims, many of whom were from right here in Southern California.

FOX 11's Hal Eisner and Christine Devine contributed to this report.