Aaron McClamb was doing God’s work when hell visited lower Manhattan.
As the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center, the 20-year-old North Carolina native was printing Bibles at a Jehovah’s Witness facility on the opposite side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
McLamb looked out a window and saw flames shooting out of the north tower. An amateur photographer who grew up wanting to be a firefighter, he grabbed his camera from a storage room and took his position outside a 10th-floor bay window.
“When I saw the fire trucks going across the bridge, I just had to start taking pictures of them, with no understanding that those guys wouldn’t come back,” McLamb, now 35, told the Daily News.
One of McLamb’s images — a shot of a ladder truck crossing the bridge, thick black smoke billowing out of the towers in the background — became one of the most famous photos of the 9/11 attacks.
The six firefighters aboard the Ladder 118 rig were all lost. McLamb’s picture captured the Brooklyn Heights ladder company’s final run, a crew of men charging toward an unfathomable disaster.
“They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I don’t think there’s any word that describes that picture,” said retired Firefighter John Sorrentino, 51, who worked out of the same firehouse as a member of Engine Co. 205.
“To me, it represents the courage and sacrifice of all the first responders who lost their lives that day.”
Aaron McLamb struggled with survivor’s guilt and couldn’t talk about what happened that day for 10 years.
The firefighters aboard the doomed rig that crystal clear Tuesday were: Vernon Cherry, 49; Leon Smith, 48; Robert Regan, 45; Pete Vega, 36; Joey Agnello, 35; and Scott Davidson, 33.
McLamb had never met them, but he did make a point to walk by their Middagh St. firehouse nearly every day on his way to work.
The six firefighters aboard Ladder 118’s truck that zoomed across the bridge were all lost.
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“Just so I could walk past the trucks,” McLamb said. “I always wanted to do that work. I have deep respect for the guys who go into a burning building just to save the lives of people who couldn’t get out.”
McLamb worked as a volunteer at the Jehovah’s Witness book-making factory on Prospect St. As he did every day, he brought his Canon Rebel 2000 to work with him on Sept. 11.
The attack happened minutes after McLamb arrived at the facility.
When he looked out the window, he had no idea he was witnessing a terror attack.
But then he caught a clear view of the second plane smashing into the south tower.
McClamb’s photo covers the Daily News days after the tragedy.
“At that point, we understood that it was some sort of intentional act,” McLamb recalled. “The big ‘t’ word (terrorism) was not on everybody’s lips then but it was understood that something deliberate just happened.”
McLamb’s perch offered a clear view of the burning towers.
“It was almost surreal being that high up looking at everything going on down below,” he recalled. “You couldn’t hear the crackling of the fire or the creaking of the buildings. The only thing we could hear were the sirens from the fire trucks going across the bridge.”
Before snapping his famous shot, McLamb watched the Ladder 118 truck roar out of the station and loop around to the entrance of the bridge.
“I remember telling one of my colleagues, ‘Here comes the 118,’” McLamb said.
About a week after the attacks, he brought a stack of 4×6 pictures to the firehouse. McLamb was certain that the tiller truck he captured belonged to Ladder 118 but the numbers were obscured in the photo.
Scanning the image with a magnifying glass, the firefighters could make out that the truck’s orange stokes basket was upside down and a tool box was welded onto the back of the rig, both Ladder 118 trademarks.
“Once we realized it was ours, it sent chills down your spine,” Sorrentino recalled.
The destroyed Ladder 118 firetruck at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001.
The picture was splashed across the cover of the Daily News a few days later. But any joy McLamb felt was short-lived.
Over the next 10 years, he struggled with survivor’s guilt and couldn’t talk about what happened that day.
A memorial to Capt. Marty Egan, Lt. Robert Regan, Lt. Robert Wallace, Firefighter Vernon Cherry, Firefighter Leon Smith, Firefighter Joe Agnello, Firefighter Scott Davidson and Firefighter Pete Vega at the Brooklyn Heights headquarter of Engine 205 and Ladder 118.
“I’ve come to realize that there was nothing I could have done about it,” said McLamb, who has returned to North Carolina and still rushes to grab his camera when he hears fire truck sirens. “I’ve come to grips with it.”
Nowadays, he gains comfort knowing that the image he made represents an enduring tribute to all of the courageous firefighters who lost their lives that day.
“It shows the heroism of those guys,” McLamb said. “They knew what they were going up against that day but they kept heading that way anyway.”
Source: Ny Daily News