WCBS-AM Traffic Reporter Tom Kaminski Recalls the Chaos of 9/11 From the Air

In our continuing series, 9/11: New York Remembers, FishbowlNY speaks to WCBS-AM traffic reporter Tom Kaminski who had a perspective on September 11, 2001 that few had, and presumably, that few could have wanted.  

He was wrapping up his morning shift, hovering above New York City in a chopper. Because of an unfounded report on the Major Deegan Expressway, Kaminski was in the air later than a normal morning.

But, of course, we would soon discover that there would be nothing normal about this day.

“We were over the GWB and we started to turn south on the Hudson and we just saw a flash,” Kaminski remembers.

Kaminski’s pilot Arthur Anderson (now pilot for WABC-TV’s Newscopter 7) went on the intercom saying he believed there was a plane in front of tower one.

The pilot investigated by contacting LaGuardia Airport to see if they lost an aircraft. First, he heard silence. Then, Anderson called back and got nothing but “stand by.”

As you undoubtedly know, the air space, not just around lower Manhattan but the entire country, would be frozen.

But for now, Kaminski and his pilot still had work to do.

At 8:46 a.m. when the first plane’s kamikaze mission ended with it hitting the World Trade Center, WCBS was in commercials having just concluded sports. 

“I’m screaming on the two-way radio trying to get a hold of somebody, because we had no idea what the hell was going on,” Kaminski admits.

No response came to Kaminski. As it turned out, the staff was busy in the one office where a window faced south (then-news director Frank Raphael’s office).

Meanwhile, with his next traffic report set for 8:48, Kaminski was scrambling.

“I’m about to go on the air, and I have zero information as to what’s going on,” Kaminski recalls.

The Hudson River air space remained uncontrolled, allowing Kaminski and his pilot to get closer to the burning building. 

“So Pat [Carroll, anchor] threw it to me and I started just by saying, ‘Something has happened at the World Trade Center.’”  (Here’s the link to the riveting audio—scroll down to the WCBS Anniversary Audio section)

It was a very fluid situation as the horrific nature of the morning was yet to be learned. Initially, reports indicated a small plane slammed into the tower. But Kaminski’s birds-eye view gave him a differing opinion.  

“Our first thought was, what ever hit the building had gone through… As soon as we got close, we knew that there was way too much damage for a small plane,” Kaminski tells FishbowlNY.

Unsure if the plane had exited the other side of the tower, Kaminski and his pilot got another angle.

“We went down to the Battery. We hovered over Battery Park and we saw that windows on all four sides had been blown out,” Kaminski recalls. “But what ever had hit the building was still inside.”

While not close enough to see if anyone ran to the roof, Kaminski did notice smoke pouring out on several floors below the point of impact.

As the smoke began to drift toward their helicopter, and obstructing their vision, Kaminski and Anderson decided to move to the north side of the towers.

“We were about halfway between Chambers [Street] and Canal [Street], and all of sudden I saw a flash out the right window,” Kaminski reflects.

That would be the attack on the south tower at 9:03 a.m. Kaminski, who remained on the air with reports from the sky, heard Carroll say, “It’s exploding now.”

Upon moving the aircraft in the opposite direction, Kaminski and Anderson were greeted by a new fireball.