Paul McCartney Witnessed the Attacks on the World Trade Center From the Tarmac at J.F.K. Airport

Paul McCartney witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Initially, he thought it was an illusion, but the horrible truth set in. Paul was at the airport of all places during the attacks and quickly jumped into action. He knew he had to help somehow, even if he just played some tunes for those affected.

Paul McCartney giving firefighters tickets to the Concert for New York in 2001.
Paul McCartney and New York City firefighters | Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Paul McCartney witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11

On the morning of Sept. 11, Paul was waiting to take off in an airplane on the tarmac at J. F. K. Airport. When he looked out of the window in the plane, he saw something he’ll never forget.

“Out of the window on the right hand side of the airplane, you could see the Twin Towers,” Paul told the Hollywood Reporter. “First there was a plume of smoke and then there was a second. I said that’s an optical illusion.

“It’s probably just some sort of little fire. Finally the steward came over to me and said, ‘Look, something serious has happened in New York and we’ve got to get you out of here.'”

According to Mental Floss, Paul left the plane and went straight to a bar for a drink. Paul could not get back to Manhatten. He ended up in a hotel on Long Island, near the airport. He watched the news coverage all day and knew he had to do something.

Paul added, “While I was out there [on Long Island] twiddling my thumbs. I began to think, is there something we can do?”

Paul McCartney wearing an FDNY T-shirt while performing during the Concert for New York in 2001.
Paul McCartney | KMazur/WireImage

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Paul visited Ground Zero a week later

A week after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Paul and his then-fiancé, Heather Mills, quietly visited Ground Zero. “Heather and I went out to dinner and when we finished, I said, ‘Would you like to get a cab and see how near we can get?’ So we took a cab, and we went down to Canal Street, and then we started walking,” Paul told Rolling Stone in 2001.

“It was raining. We went up to the police lines and asked, ‘Could we go down here?’ A few of the guys recognized me and said, ‘Well, you can come through, Paul!’

“It was that kind of spirit,” he continued. “It was like, ‘Good, you’re down here,’ and I was like, ‘It’s great what you’re doing.’ Of course, the nearer we got, the smoke was in our clothes, in our eyes. You could see all the spotlights. We just stood there, said a little prayer, and that was it.

“Then we went to this bar nearby, which was nearly empty; maybe a couple of rescue workers were there. I said, ‘I need a stiff drink.'”

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Paul organized the Concert for New York to help the survivors of the attacks on the World Trade Center

Even though he was dealing with his own grief (his fellow Beatle and “little brother” George Harrison was dying of cancer, and his wife, Linda, had died of it in 1998), Paul was determined to help in any way. That meant he’d use his music for good.

“I thought Giuliani was really good about saying, ‘We’ve got to get back to work,'” Paul continued to Rolling Stone. “If we don’t, the terrorists achieve one of their objectives. I think he came out of this looking really good.”

So, jumping off of what Giuliani was doing to help the city, Paul started organizing the Concert for New York. “I saw how they dealt with it, and it was with humour and it was with music,” Paul said in a promo for the documentary, The Love We Make.

Paul got his fellow musicians Elton John, David Bowie, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, and Mick Jagger to help him for the Concert for New York. It was held at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 20. Paul performed a bunch of Beatles tunes wearing an FDNY T-shirt.

The concert raised more than $30 million for the Robin Hood Relief Fund, which benefited the victims and survivors of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“It was just a great pleasure to be able to be some small part of restoring America’s confidence,” Paul said.

For his efforts with the Concert for New York, the NYPD made Paul an honorary detective. However, Paul didn’t do it for the publicity or the rewards. He did it for New York.

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