It was 15 years ago that Lyle Owerko captured one the most harrowing images of 9/11 — a street-level view of smoke and flames funneling from the heart of New York City.

As one of the few people with a camera near the attacks, the Calgary born and raised photographer witnessed the moment the second plane crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Centre. 

Lyle Owerko tower

A street view of the south tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. (Lyle Owerko)

Lyle Owerko reflects on 9/11 photograph featured on cover of Time4:23

Time magazine published his photograph on the cover of its Sept. 11, 2001 special edition along with many of the other shots he took that day.

'And if I didn't take those pictures, there would be no proof that it even happened.' - Lyle Owerko, photographer

As the attacks unfolded, Owerko said he placed his camera to his face and went into "tunnel vision" mode.

"You sort of start shutting out other emotions, other judgements, other encroached sentiments or even feelings and you merely become the eyes of the world," Owerko told the Calgary Eyeopener from a Manhattan studio on Friday.

Lyle Owerko Sept. 11, 2001

'If I didn't take those pictures, there would be no proof that it even happened," says 9/11 photographer, Lyle Owerko. (Lyle Owerko)

"When those people were jumping, it wasn't so much capturing them in a frail moment — but preserving the last moments of the dignity of their spirit, their soul, their being."

"And if I didn't take those pictures, there would be no proof that it even happened."

Lyle Owerko 9/11 Time cover

Lyle Owerko, holding the Sept. 11, 2001 special edition of Time magazine. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Before everything went "horribly, horribly wrong," Owerko was relaxing in his lower Manhattan apartment after returning from assignment in Africa.

"It was actually one of the most beautiful days ever in New York. It was clear, blue, crisp."

When the first plane crashed into the north tower, he said he "simply reacted to the sound" and grabbed his camera bags, which he had not yet unpacked from his trip.

Owerko said the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks with be "a day of deep, deep reflection."

"[To] be grateful for all the good things, and ruminate on what you can keep on doing moving forward into the next year and contributing back to society." 


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener