Resident, students saw 9/11 attacks aboard Half Moon (2024)

“We stood stunned. Ned kept saying softly, ‘Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ.’ It wasn’t a curse — more like an old sailor’s prayer for the dead and dying. We upped anchor — we were in the harbor about a mile or so from the [World Trade Center]. We watched the smoke get darker and a long smoke plume reached out across the harbor heading for New Jersey.” —Dick Brooks

It was a trip of a lifetime, billed as a voyage of discovery for a dozen seventh grade kids sailing aboard the Half Moon, a replica of the ship Henry Hudson guided up the Hudson River in 1609.

But it turned into a nightmare, a trip none of them would ever forget, as they witnessed the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attack, the worst strike on U.S. ground since Pearl Harbor.

Four kids had been specially selected from three schools in Albany, Bethlehem and Rensselaerville, with one teacher from each serving as chaperone. The crew, with Dick Brooks aboard as cook, consisted of Captain Chip Reynolds, a First Mate and a Bosun.

On Sept. 10, 2001, the ship had anchored in a shallow section of the New York Harbor in between the Statue of Liberty and the Battery.

Earlier, they had sailed around Manhattan, following the route specified in the journal of Hudson’s first mate, Robert Juet.

On the morning of Sept. 11, the kids and crew got up around 6 a.m. They cleared the deck from an overnight storm which had been so severe they had draped canvas in the rigging so the sleeping area would stay at least partially dry.

As the crew and the kids readied the ship for its trip upriver, Brooks served a breakfast of cereal and milk. It was a simple meal compared to others they had enjoyed, ranging from eggs McMoon (scrambled eggs on toast) to ziti.

The kids then started collecting water specimens for scientific experiments meant to discover the type of organisms present and provide information about the Hudson River estuary.

Brooks said he and the first mate were standing at the starboard railing, admiring the lower Manhattan skyline, when they noticed smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center’s north tower and spotted flames.

That was at 8:45 a.m.

They hadn’t heard any explosions nor had they seen the plane, and they were talking about what could have caused the fire.

It was only in retrospect that Brooks realized the plane had come from the east, behind the building, and was blocked from the Half Moon’s harbor view by the south tower.

Then, a little before 9:03 a.m., Brooks said he heard the unmistakable roar of another jet coming in from behind the Half Moon.

He turned and watched in stunned amazement as a second American Airline Boeing 757 hugged the New Jersey shoreline south of the ship.

It cut east across the river from the World Trade Center, flying almost directly across the Half Moon’s bow, and then banked and headed straight into the south tower.

“That’s when we figured it had been done on purpose,” Brooks said. “The kids and the crew just watched, stunned. The huge ball of fire and smoke grew thicker and thicker and it was harder to see.”

Someone went down to the galley where there was an old radio and at 9:40 heard the Pentagon had just been hit. Then the radio died.

“Fighter jets started streaking through the skies above us, like huge angry hornets,” Brooks said. “There were at least six of them.”

Nineteen minutes later, at 9:59 a.m., the south tower collapsed.

“One strange memory I have of that day is that as the tower fell, the air around it looked like someone had thrown buckets of fairy dust which twinkled and sparkled in the bright morning light. I realized, later, it must have been reflections from the thousands of windows which had exploded into tiny shards of glass,” Brooks said.

“The debris billowed out of the crash site, growing darker and thicker until we couldn’t see the north tower at all, just the blinking red light on top,” Brooks said.

“That’s when Captain Chip said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’”

But it was a slow process. Because the Half Moon is a replica of a 17th century ship, the anchor is connected by a capsum, a post jutting up from the main deck which takes a half dozen kids pushing a beam through the center to raise.

The harbor patrol boats stopped by and told the captain to anchor on the New Jersey side.

“He told them we had a crew of kids on board and we were going home,” Brooks said.

The Half Moon headed north at a speed of roughly five miles an hour.

“I was at the helm, with both arms wrapped around it, trying to keep it steady. The ship was supposed to have two diesel engines but there was only one.”

Brooks had to compensate for that engine pulling the boat to one side while the captain stood above in a box with a drop-down window, yelling directions and operating the whipstaff, a post hooked to the rudder which is used to steer the boat.

Brooks said he never saw the second tower fall because he was so intent on controlling the helm.

“The kids were watching,” he said, “but there was so much debris they couldn’t see much. They knew the second tower had fallen when the red light on top listed to one side and plummeted to the bottom.”

That was at 10:28 a.m.

“When we crossed under the George Washington Bridge, at the tip of Manhattan, there was a flotilla of small boats. The coast guard had set up a blockade preventing river traffic any further south.”

Brooks said the crew’s goal was to get the kids back to Peekskill, the launch site for the voyage.

“We had a kid with a laptop who was able to let the Peekskill officials know we were on our way,” he said.

By that time, some of the kids and even a couple of the teachers had begun to recover from their state of shock and the reality of what they had seen had begun to hit them.

Brooks, who is trained in crisis management, helped the captain organize a ship’s meeting with all the kids and crew to talk about and try to make sense out of the horrific sights they had witnessed.

“I told the kids they had just witnessed history,” Brooks said. “They were phenomenal. Some of the teachers were in worse shape than they were.”

Brooks said they tried to make the rest of the voyage as normal as possible.

“There were four girls who were taking it hard. I took them down to the galley and we had a peanut butter and jam session,” he said.

The Half Moon pulled into Peekskill that evening where buses were waiting. Because of the minimal communication they still didn’t know exactly what had happened.

The captain got on a bus with the kids and rode up to Albany where parents and guardians had gathered, while Brooks secured the ship and then drove the captain’s jeep back to his New Baltimore home, arriving around 10 p.m.

The New York State Thruway had been closed and so he drove up the Taconic, crossing into Greene County at the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.

“I knew something terrible had happened,” Brooks said, “But I still hadn’t heard any news as the jeep’s radio didn’t work. All I knew for sure was that we had been attacked and people had died. I was able to call my wife, Janet, and let her know I was all right.”

Brooks said he still gets the “heebie-jeebies” whenever a jet flies over his New Baltimore home on its way to Albany Airport.

“I never could have predicted the enormous changes in everything from security to surveillance to regulations which came about as a result of that day,” he said.

And, as optimistic and cheerful as he seems in his weekly Hudson-Catskill Newspapers column, Whittling Away, he admitted that he wouldn’t rule out another attack.

“They did it to us once,” he said. “They’re still out there. They want to do it to us again. I would tell everyone to stay on their guard.”

Besides writing a weekly column, Brooks wears many other hats. A former elementary teacher, he served as a Greene County legislator for seven years.

He is also on the Board of Trustees of Columbia-Greene Community College, serves as President of the Board for the Greene County Cornell Cooperative Extension, is a church deacon and manager of the Historic Catskill Point.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Resident, students saw 9/11 attacks aboard Half Moon (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Dan Stracke

Last Updated:

Views: 5311

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (43 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Dan Stracke

Birthday: 1992-08-25

Address: 2253 Brown Springs, East Alla, OH 38634-0309

Phone: +398735162064

Job: Investor Government Associate

Hobby: Shopping, LARPing, Scrapbooking, Surfing, Slacklining, Dance, Glassblowing

Introduction: My name is Dan Stracke, I am a homely, gleaming, glamorous, inquisitive, homely, gorgeous, light person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.