Brenda Smiley Pyle Recalls ‘Horrific’ View of 9/11

A photo Brenda Smiley Pyle shot from her roof the morning of September 11, 2001.

Longtime OPC member Brenda Smiley Pyle shared her memories of 9/11 with the OPC in a piece that also appeared in an Associated Press internal newsletter.  

by Brenda Smiley Pyle

I was using three different cameras, but not all negs were returned. It was early, and I had recently returned from a disappointing trip to Panama researching a mass grave story, and was going over visuals.

It was the vibration I felt first and when I went to our big West-facing window, saw a silver nose cone coming through the first tower. Richard (Pyle, my husband) was out walking our Alsatian, Rommel, getting back in time to see the unimaginable on the roof deck. The smell, the sight, of our once-beloved view, horrific. And I feared our neighbors who worked in the Towers would have already been at work. I located his Star Trek phaser-like AP cell phone and he made that fateful call to the New York bureau. Mark Phillips lived nearby at the time, and, like other neighbors, was rooftop. Richard told him that he had to shoot this and send to Barbara Woike at AP asap. Before long, what looked like misdirected snowflakes began to fall from the sky. The smell intensified. The wind, like a giant cone, was blowing it all our way. By this time, Richard was preparing to get down there, if the subway was still working.

Electric power went out all over. The Verizon station, along with a historic Greek church, had been heavily damaged. We were without electricity. The subway to the city stopped abruptly. Richard had to get out and walk the rest of the way across the Brooklyn Bridge. He said he met up with another person, a construction worker, and together they walked through the smoke and against straggling, ashen-covered survivors, the lucky ones, who were trying to get back to Brooklyn.

I didn’t hear from him for what seemed like an eternity. Much later that day, I got a call. He was with the mayor’s people and other press, and didn’t think he’d be home any time soon. With the Verizon station gone, his mobile wasn’t working.

Blow, O-Kaze, Blow.

That brilliant, blue sky was history. For three or four days more, the determined O-Kaze continued its directional blow of fetid debris and origami-like strips of paper our way, destroying the poorly functioning AC, slithering through any window openings, carpeting the roof, and devastating the lettuce and growing tomatoes.

I could tell Rommel was feeling the effects, as was I. It was in the air. I could taste it. Rommel tried crawling underneath the bed, deciding instead on his own bed.

Eventually Richard hitched a ride back. He wanted to get to his laptop, but the unstoppable combat reporter was covered in the dust and exhausted. A shower and rest was in order.

Spending that time down there, unprotected and without a mask, Richard subsequently developed lung fibrosis, destructive lung damage, and the same pulmonary sarcoidosis he described as contributing to the death of a WTC office worker in a 2011 article.

In a way. it is a war story. His last one. Courageously covering 9/11, so close to home, he may have met his nemesis.