Two Oregonians who were in New York during the attack recount the morning when they saw planes crash into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.
PORTLAND, Oregon — Two Oregonians who lived through the attacks on Sep. 11, 2001 pause to remember what happened every year on the anniversary.
This year they are also sharing their stories.
Laura Styler grew up in Corvallis. In the late 1990’s, she and her twin sister, Christa, were discovered as models and embraced by that industry. By 2001, Laura worked an international circuit of fashion shows. She lived with the bright lights and glamour you would expect for a model very much in demand around the world.
“You have to be pretty good and well known to have enough designers who want to hire you for the shows in every city,” Styler said. “So, I did new York, London, Milan, Paris—and even Tokyo and Sydney.”
She was in New York the morning of Sept. 11 for New York Fashion Week and stayed with a friend in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center. That morning her alarm failed to go off.
“What woke me up was the plane crashing into the north tower. The sound. It woke me up but it’s a sound I’ve never heard before— I couldn’t— I was like ‘did a dumpster fall on concrete? What? What was that?’” she remembered.
Beaverton native Jason Baseden also lived in Jersey City, although he and Styler have never met. That morning he was already on the way to his advertising sales job at the Discovery Channel.
He remembers Sept. 11 like it was yesterday.
“The day started out, it was a beautiful day,” he said. “A little warm but very sunny.”
His train followed its tunnel under the Hudson River and dropped him off in the basement of the World Trade towers. He had to go up to the main mall to catch another train to his office.
“While I did that— that’s when I first recognized a very large sound, sounded like broken glass but a deep base sort of sound,” Baseden said. “Living in New York at this point you hear things that don’t always make sense but you kinda become a New Yorker and you go along with your business and that’s what I did.”
He heard from a co-worker that a plane had hit the World Trade Center but assumed it was a small one and an accident. He headed to his office which was dozens of blocks north of the twin towers.
Back in Jersey City, model Laura Styler thought her fashion show was still on but worried the city would lock down and she’d be late.
“So I’m like putting my clothes on. And I’m like jumping one legged into my jeans and I’ve got a toothbrush in my mouth and I’m watching the news. And I’m looking at my phone and then all of a sudden the second plane hits live on TV. But because I was in Jersey City—the radio tower was on top of that tower, the TV and my phone went off,” she said.
Jason Baseden had left his office and hurried downtown to find his roommate Jeff Gamble, also from Beaverton, who was working at Madison Square Garden. Baseden wanted to find him so they could get out of there together.
He could see smoke coming from the side of one of the buildings.
“I looked downtown at this point all I saw was this massive plume of smoke. And it literally looked like downtown Manhattan had blown up. So I saw the smoke and at this point I started to run,” he recalled.
Baseden got to Madison Garden, learned his roommate Gamble had already left, and raced to a train platform for the trip back across the river.
“The train went really slow on the trip but it didn’t stop at any of the stations and each platform had a number of people. And people were yelling at the train. I remember people trying to grab the train— like trying to stop the train with their hands. And that was a bit frightening because you wanted to help them because there was plenty of space on the train,” he said.
Meanwhile, Styler went outside and found her way down to the waterfront boardwalk and then a grass field next to the ferry terminal.
Many others had gathered.
“There was a woman crying with two children behind me. I remember she said that her husband was in the towers and she couldn’t get ahold of him. I don’t know what happened,” she said.
It was a helpless feeling.
“We were terrified that the building would fall. I was on the phone with my mother. And I knew that there were news crews and firemen and police officers and people just standing at the base, watching. And it was excruciatingly painful to not be able to warn them,” she said tearing up all these years later.
“Yeah. It’s not something that you forget. At that time there were people hanging out of the buildings where the building smoke was. And we realized that they were jumping. And we were just sobbing,” she said.
Jason Baseden eventually ended up standing about 500 yards from Styler on the same river front, though they never met. But both witnessed the awful events in shock like millions of others.
In the aftermath, it made each reflect on their lives. The magazine covers, and glamour suddenly lost their appeal to Styler.
“Like what am I doing with my life? Is it meaningful? Does it have purpose? And at that time, no. Fashion is very glamorous but I’m not saving lives here,” she said.
She now lives in Austin, is an author and practices energy medicine.
Baseden realized he wanted more as well.
“Occasionally, I could come home from work and think what am I doing for society? And this is no disrespect to anybody in sales,” he said. “Everybody has to make a living. But I felt, you know, both my parents were educators and there was an opportunity.”
And he took it. He got into coaching and teaching and now is an athletic director in New Hampshire where he feels he and his school are impacting thousands of lives for the better.
Two of many, changed forever by September 11, 2001.
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