The night Sandra Sully watched history change

I’ll never forget the night Sandra Sully told me a plane had struck one of the towers of the World Trade Centre.

I was sitting up late working at my computer (as I am ten years later) and the first reports sounded like a terrible accident had taken place. Early reports were sketchy, but it sounded like a light plane may have hit the building. Smoke was streaming from the side of the building.

I’d always remembered seeing the towers in movies. Jessica Lange was carried up it by Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong. Godspell had staged a song and dance number on the roof. The Wiz had a lavish number on the plaza. Homer Simpson had tried to take a pee in them.

I discussed the news with my housemate who was getting ready for bed.  How could such an accident have taken place? Had an aggrieved pilot committed suicide? It was all rather terrible, but it seemed so far away in the craziness that is America. I went back to my work.

I think the next time I checked in a second plane had hit. This time it had been caught on camera and was being replayed. It was no light plane, it was a passenger jet. Fireballs exploded. I dropped everything and so did my housemate. What I watched unfold was a night we’ll never forget.

Sandra Sully stayed on air through an extended TEN Late News talking us through the devastating and inexplicable events. Ever the professional, she kept relaying the facts as they came to hand. I have no idea how she remained so composed through it all. At home I was ringing friends late at night trying to say “Are you seeing this?” I also had a friend living in New York. I had no idea where her office was in relation to the WTC.

I remember seeing the NBC Today Show staying on the air to cover it all. Katie Couric, Matt Lauer… city on fire.

Then a report came in that the Pentagon had been hit. A fortress of American strength. What was happening to the world?

Watching the towers tumble was like something out of a movie. Godzilla without Godzilla. I stayed up for about 4 hours watching it all. I don’t remember if I learned of the crash in Pennsylvania that night….

In the days that followed (when Ansett went under too), everybody just stayed home. Theatre shows, parties, cinemas and community events struggled to attract crowds. Nobody was in the mood for gatherings.

Australian networks had blanket coverage for several days from New York. I remember Ray Martin describing the scene.

Amazingly, I later came across a 2002 New York City calendar I must have bought that month. On the front cover is a picture of the twin towers standing tall. I have kept it sealed in its plastic wrapper ever since, because it’s sadly something that never came to pass.

Ten years later Sandra Sully is still reading me the late night news. Yesterday she also got married in Sydney.

But I will never forget the night we watched history change together.



  1. I remember that night

    I was watching an encore screening of chat show Beauty and the Beast on Foxtel and there was this sudden crawl at the bottom of the screen describing what had happened. At that point I knew that the News was big and probably be getting world wide attention. I then watched Sandra that night.

    It was so movie like I was hard to even take seriously at first because it was so outrageous. Then next day at school they held an assembly to discuss it. Little did I know it was an event that would change everything about the way we lived and looked at the world..

  2. I was watching West Wing (ep where Mrs Landingham died) and iirc switched over during an ad. Ended up staying on 10, video was left recording on 9. Still have it around somewhere.

  3. I was also watching The West Wing, when Jim Waley broke in with a couple of news flashes.

    Al Qaeda was known of in Australia, as they had been talked about as a security threat for the 2000 Olympics, and were known for the 1998 US embassy bombings in east Africa and the the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. Didn’t an Australian journalist interview Osama Bin Laden in the late 90s?

  4. I watched Sandra that night. I was ready to go to bed and it came on. I ended up cracking a few cans and staying up to 3 am. I flicked through the channels and from memory it took nearly half an hour before nine and seven came on. It took longer before they had Australian coverage as those networks had no news services at that timeslot so they had to call people in. Tim webster was there to do sports tonight and i remember Sandra said in an interview on “The Panel” than Tim, being an old newshound was working behind the scenes putting a lot of things together. I remember Lateline also started reporting things but Sandra and Ten News had the jump on them all probably because they had an operating studio at the time. It was a surreal moment,the most surreal was when i saw the second plane crash into the twin towers live. It was at that time i realised that the world had changed forever. I also remember the way Sandra handled the night. It was clear she was shocked but was all class in the way she handled it. When i watch her now i know she is much more than just a newsreader.

  5. We were watching West Wing on 9 when it did a news break to say a small plane had crashed into the towers. West wing only had a few minutes to go we then switched to CNN on fox to see the second plane crash into the towers we just froze and thought my god has the war started: then the phone rang it was my daughter ringing from Japan her American Flatmates were frightened they were watching CNN like we were but was in Japanese and they didn’t know what was happening. Spent the rest of the night rebroadcasting what was happening to Japan. Still have the scenes in my mind. It was the day that changed my life.

  6. I can also remember that night Sandra Sully was reading the late news then I saw footage of World Trade Center hit by one plane, catching fire, then the second plane hit the other tower. I watched the bulletin up until midnight, then turned down the volume to tune into BBC World Service relay on ABC NewsRadio for special live coverage. I think I stayed up until 1am. (For those who are interested, last week’s TV Week has a good interview with Sandra herself)
    BTW, congratulations Sandra on getting married in Sydney yesterday.

  7. David I just read your article and the first thing I thought was how nice Sandra Sully got married yesterday. Congrats to her.

    Seriously though. I cannot believe its 10 years already. I was at my TAFE Camp and someone said something about a plane hitting an american building and at that time most of us were around a camp fire so no one really paid attention until a 2nd plane hit. Then it got our attention. Its all anyone spoke about all night. One of my friends had a friend who worked at the WTC but got saved because he felt like a bagel so he went out and got one. The next morning we talked about it had aminutes silence and we didnt really want to be there anymore so we went home. I was glued to the coverage for days and days.

    Even friday seeing bits of NBC today with Matt and they reflected back on that day and showed intervuews with young children who had lost parents and he spoke to them again after 10 years.

  8. I was watching a video, turned it off and started watching Sandra”s coverage. The first plane had just hit. Watched it until the early hours but could not believe what I was seeing – especially when the towers came down.

  9. For those interested all the footage from the main US and international networks is archived here-

    Each networks coverage starts as a normal day and then it all changes.

  10. I went to bed early and woke up to the news on morning TV. My most vivid memory is of commuting to work that day. It was a packed Sydney commuter train but you could have heard a pin drop. No one said a word during the whole journey, there was just this stunned, deathly silence for about 40 mins.

  11. I remember flicking between the six analogue FTA networks we had then. If memory serves, the all night graveyard transmissions had;
    Nine => ABC (US) & CBS
    Seven => NBC
    TEN => Clean feeds & CNN
    ABC => CNN
    SBS => BBC
    Access 31 => BBC

  12. Ps – just to share my experience, I remember coming home from late shift at work at 10pm, getting some dinner ready and turning on the telly and there was this image of a plane hitting a building. I truly thought ‘this must be some sbs movie because those special effects are rubbish’ – the plane just didn’t seem real. It was blurry and black, as if it had been superimposed onto the ny skyline. If only…

  13. @ jezza – check NBN news late edition 911 on YouTube – nbn is a 9 affiliate in the hunter and at the time Jodi McKay (more recently ex state tourism minister) was reading the news. Think I have read somewhere that nbn was one of the 1st channels in oz to report what happened as their news was rolling live when it happened

  14. I went to bed early that night for once, when I woke up to the news I told my family they should have woken me up, this was huge and changed the world.

    @Courtney- pretty sure no one had heard of Al-Qaeda before this, maybe people who worked in intelligence but certainly not the general community.

  15. Can I just throw something out there.. Can you imagine if it had happened today, with all the modern advances of facebook and twitter we would get so much coverage and perspective of all angles! People from the building and planes would be tweeting and taking photos, their would be so many reports and accounts of it the government couldn’t silence them all 😉

  16. I remember that night vividly. I too was watching Sandra, at first it was all so surreal I thought it was the making of a movie. But Sandra told me otherwise. It is a night I will never forget in my life, I stayed up all night, right through to 7am watching. I also lost a friend. R.I.P Kevin Cosgrove. He died in the most chilling of circumstances in 2 Tower WTC 106 floor.

  17. I was watching Rove in Perth and it cut to breaking news. I was in complete shock. I didn’t stay up late the next day as i had work the next day. I remember Sandra did an interview about receiving the news and then relying it to us.

  18. It was part of my ritual at the time to watch 10 late news. After the 1st plane, I thought terrorist attack. Then when the 2nd one hit, we all knew it was. I woke my dad up (he was born & raised in America, Kansas to be exact) and we watched the coverage for ages. When the towers collapsed, it was like “Holy @!#*”

  19. A lot of us must have been up late watching that night. I actually woke my flatmate and told him he should watch because something “very scary” was happening. He was initially not happy about being woken but then stayed transfixed to the TV screen with me. Another friend, knowing I would probably be up (and if not would want to be) phoned and there was a lot of “Oh-my-god” comments for several hours. Like the collapse of the Berlin wall, and several other events in recent years this was trully TV capturing history being made.and making the world a smaller place.
    Congratulations to Sandra on her wedding.

  20. I remember turning the Tv off just as Rove was ending I didnt know about the attacks until the next morning when i turned on to Triple M Sydney which at the time was Andrew denton and Amanda Keller at Breakfast they went right through until midday that day instead of finishing at 9
    to me that whole day had a very dark and heavy atmosphere to it I’ll never forget it

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