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New York City - The NYPD Pilot Behind the New 9/11 Photos

Published on: February 15, 2010 11:20 AM
By:  CBS News
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New York City - This past week saw the release of stunning new pictures of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, taken by a New York City police helicopter pilot. CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell talked with the pilot and photography enthusiast, who was one of the first officers on the scene.

Greg Semendinger spent 35 years with the NYPD, 14 as a helicopter pilot. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was stationed at a Brooklyn airfield.

“I’d been interested in photography all my life,” Semendinger said. “I carried a camera on every flight. … We got a call that a private plane had hit the World Trade Center, jumped into the helicopter, [and] we were up there in a couple of minutes.”

Semendinger’s partner, Jim Ciccone, was piloting their aircraft. Early reports were that a tiny Cessna might be to blame.

“It looked like it was hit by a lot bigger aircraft than a private plane,” Semendinger said. “At the time, we still thought it was only an accident.”

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But the second plane crash established that it was no accident.

“We knew then that it was a terrorist attack,” Semendinger recalled.

Smoke engulfed the twin towers.

“Our primary job was to search the roof to see if anybody made it to the roof - whether they broke down the door, whether they pried it open, or however it happened. I was just hoping that somebody made it up there,” Semendinger said.

In under an hour after it was attacked, the south tower would fall.

“We tried to get the message across that the writing is on the wall—the north tower is probably going to come down,” Semendinger recalled. “Everybody should get out.”

Thirty minutes later, it also collapsed.

“I could see the whole building going down into the mushroom cloud that was surrounding it,” Semendinger said. “And then I could see the cloud spreading out through the streets in lower Manhattan.”

“For the people that were trapped up there - it’s really a shame; they had no place to go,” he said.

Greg Semendinger retired from the New York City Police Department in 2002. He has 240 digital pictures of 9/11.



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Read Comments (12)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Feb 15, 2010 at 11:45 AM Momsense/sonsense Says:

How could this guy detach himself so much, emotionally that he was able to snap and keep snapping that many photos?

2

 Feb 15, 2010 at 12:02 PM NYCbuff Says:

aviation base to central.... we read direct ....show Air-sea rescue 12 responding.... -k-

4

 Feb 15, 2010 at 12:39 PM Anonymous Says:

why didn't these pilots try rescuing people let ropes down along the buildings or try landing on the roof ... there was no attemted rescue at all despite the many police and news choppers in the area what a shame that news reporting prevails over life.

5

 Feb 15, 2010 at 01:40 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #4  
Anonymous Says:

why didn't these pilots try rescuing people let ropes down along the buildings or try landing on the roof ... there was no attemted rescue at all despite the many police and news choppers in the area what a shame that news reporting prevails over life.

didnt you read no one made it to the roof

6

 Feb 15, 2010 at 01:41 PM Anonymous Says:

it was to hot to land the chopper on the tower.

7

 Feb 15, 2010 at 01:59 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #4  
Anonymous Says:

why didn't these pilots try rescuing people let ropes down along the buildings or try landing on the roof ... there was no attemted rescue at all despite the many police and news choppers in the area what a shame that news reporting prevails over life.

The doors to the roof were locked for security reasons; one of the questions posed afterwards was why weren't they opened.

8

 Feb 15, 2010 at 02:30 PM Anonymous Says:

there was no coordinated effort made to the people in the buildings to head out to the roof they would have found a way how to get there.

9

 Feb 15, 2010 at 02:51 PM MK Says:

I've always wondered why they didn't dump fire-fighting foam on the roofs of both buildings like they do for forest fires.
Does anyone know the answer to that?

10

 Feb 15, 2010 at 03:40 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Momsense/sonsense Says:

How could this guy detach himself so much, emotionally that he was able to snap and keep snapping that many photos?

That is why he is a professional and not a buff who would be overrun by emotions and panic. He is a pilot and an observer. His primary duty is to observe, record, and relay accurate information to boots on the ground and he did that well.

12

 Feb 16, 2010 at 10:23 AM Anonymous Says:

In any large rescue or military operation, documentation is important for many reasons. The documentation can be used in a critique of the response and in planning and training for (G-d forbid) future emergencies.

13

 Feb 18, 2010 at 10:00 AM youre watching too many movies Says:

Reply to #4  
Anonymous Says:

why didn't these pilots try rescuing people let ropes down along the buildings or try landing on the roof ... there was no attemted rescue at all despite the many police and news choppers in the area what a shame that news reporting prevails over life.

Im glad you were not in command giving orders, but with your imagination you might try directing a movie

14

 Mar 10, 2010 at 04:35 PM Donna Says:

Reply to #1  
Momsense/sonsense Says:

How could this guy detach himself so much, emotionally that he was able to snap and keep snapping that many photos?

As an admitted photo hobbyist and a policeman in the aviation unit he was creating a time line. Instead of looking into yourself, externalize. Everyone, handles trauma, differently. Maybe, you would not of shot photos because that was a detached way for you to handle the horrific event as it was unfolding. Schemendinger, in his heart of hearts is a visual journalist. He, on the other hand may of thought it totally detached had he not taken photographs.

In my opinion, rather then accuse him of being detached, appreciate more his heroic efforts and photos. These very images will be part of our recorded history. Since these pictures have been published already they have had a "world wide" impact.

15

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