Story last updated at 12:25 p.m. Friday, September 6, 2002

Local photographer reflects on 9/11

Right place at the wrong time

by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo courtesy of Dave Olsen
The first World Trade Center tower hit on Sept. 11 burns in this image, at left, captured by Dave Olsen, an amateur photographer from Homer.  
Last summer, Homer restaurateurs Dave and Jennifer Olsen made a spur of the moment trip to New York City to buy restaurant equipment.

The date was Sept. 9.

Two mornings later, Dave Olsen awoke in his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the New Yorker Hotel to the sound of sirens, coming both from the television his wife had left on and from the streets beneath his windows.

photo: news
  Photo courtesy of Dave Olsen
An unidentified New Yorker covered in the dust of a crumbled tower appears dazed by the happenings. Olsen, Cafe Cups owner and chef, took his Canon EOS 1 with a 75-300mm telephoto lens to the streets of New York the morning of the attacks to get the images.  
He saw on the television that an airplane had collided with one of the World Trade Center towers.

"The first thing I thought, personally, was that some idiot in a news helicopter had crashed into the tower or something," he said. "Then Jennifer came back from breakfast, and we watched the second tower get hit and decided it wasn't an accident."

The Olsens left their hotel and headed toward the section of the city later known as Ground Zero.

photo: news
  Photo by Dave Olsen
A New York City police officer, above, takes a break in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.  
"We got within about five or six blocks," Olsen said. "It's tough to describe. It's like nothing you've ever seen before. People with briefcases, all covered in dust, were running past us in the other direction."

When a fighter jet flew overhead, the tension level of the people crowding the streets elevated, he said. "We didn't know whose fighter it was."

Olsen, an amateur photographer, shot two quick frames of one of the towers in flames before he ran out of film and ducked into a market to buy more.

photo: news
  Photo by Dave Olsen
A firefighter prepares for "battle" in lower Manhattan. These were among the many images of Sept. 11 captured by amateur photographer Dave Olsen of Homer, who was on a business trip to the city with his wife, Jennifer, during the attacks.  
"It was crazy," he said. "There were people already buying batteries, water, supplies. While we were in there, we watched on the TV as the second tower to get hit fell."

Olsen returned to the streets with his camera. The pictures he shot show the aftermath of the terrorist attacks from a ground-level perspective.

He keeps them in an album behind the bar at CafE Cups, the Pioneer Avenue restaurant he and his wife own.

photo: news
"It's tough to describe. It's like nothing you've ever seen before." -Dave Olsen  
"The whole thing just made me more aware of world politics, you know? Once everybody on the street realized it wasn't a news helicopter or an accident of some kind, there was this change," he said. "Suddenly there was no prejudice on the streets. It was, 'We're all Americans, and they're here. They've hit New York, they've hit the Pentagon, how far is it going to go?'

"It was an intangible thing, just a feeling, but it was amazing," Olsen said. "Just talking about it now, the hair on my arms is standing up."

Chris Bernard can be reached at