While it has now been 20 years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, the fateful memories of that day will live forever.

On September 11, 2001, the world watched on in horror as four planes were hijacked mid-flight by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists and flown straight into the Twin Towers.

Both collapsed within an hour and forty-two minutes killing an overwhelming 2,977 people and injuring at least 6,000 more.

The world would never be the same again.

Looking back now, our editorial still strikes a chord as both poignant and full of foresight.

“This tragic event will affect us all,” our paper said.

“The hijacking of civilian aircraft for suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon opens a new and terrible chapter in the long-running story of international terrorism.

“We can only pray that President Bush and his advisers will not be tempted into knee-jerk reactions. The reverberations from this horror cannot be confined to the US.

“Today our thoughts and prayers are with the thousands of victims of this fanatical outrage. The lives of the families of those who have died and of the people who will be forever scarred can never be the same. Perhaps neither can ours.”

Read the full editorial here.

There were immediate effects felt locally, as security was ramped up to its highest level ever at RAF Fairford, American’s most important forward European bomber bases.

There was speculation that the base could be used in retaliatory action against the terrorists.

Security was also stepped up at RAF Lyneham.

Meanwhile local residents with loved ones living in, or travelling to and from, New York faced an emotional few days.

Several Swindon fire crew knew some among the 300 firemen who died personally, after visiting New York on a working holiday just a few months before.

Friends and family of HSBC Chippenham manager Paul Lilley faced an anxious 24-hour wait to find out if he had survived.

Mr Lilley and his wife Wendy had flown to the city and planned to celebrate their wedding anniversary at the top of the doomed skyscraper.

But his relieved colleagues received an email telling them the couple were safe and well.

'Everyone here will know of someone who has died'

North Wiltshire district councillor Lesley Bennett said the half-hour wait to hear news from her daughter Hannah in New York was one of the worst experiences of her life.

Coun Bennett’s stepson Guy, who also lives in New York, was evacuated from his office at the Rockerfellar Centre, which the authorities worried could be next on the attackers’ list.

The Gazette spoke to Hannah in New York just hours after the atrocity.

“The biggest fear was, and still is, that it hadn’t finished and that this was only the start of something,” said Hannah, who lived next to the George Washington Bridge in uptown Manhattan.

“This makes me really pine for England and for somebody to say everybody’s going to be all right.

“We’re not in the throb of it, but the strangest thing here is the silence. It’s very eerie. New York is such a busy, noisy place, and where we are everyone is stunned.”

As she spoke, army vans were filing into her neighbourhood as the National Guard was sent in as a security measure.

Hannah, who was studying a course in social work and had been in the country for a year and a half, said: “Everyone here will know of someone who has died and that is scary.”

She had planned to go shopping that morning, to a store just metres away from the fated building. “I feel so incredibly lucky,” she said.

'I couldn't believe it was true'

Coun Bennett, of Malmesbury, was in Buxton when she heard the terrifying news. “I saw a crowd of people watching the television in a shop and when I heard what had happened I couldn’t believe it was true,” she said.

“Then I realised that was where my children were. I didn’t have a mobile with me so I rushed around phoning her at home, her work number, her mobile, and we just weren’t getting through.”

Eventually, after more than half an hour of panic and worry, Coun Bennett got word from her daughter. “It was so wonderful to hear her voice,” she said.

Coun Bennett heard news her stepson was safe in a matter of minutes, after a call from his mother.

David Brown, of David Brown Travel in Chippenham, said staff were doing all they could to reassure customers.

“With the airports being closed, we can’t get people in or out and everybody we have contacted has appreciated the situation. For clients we’ve got over in the States their flights have been extended until next week but maybe the airports will open sooner.”

Wiltshire Times: Shocking scene - the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Center, in New York, in 2001. It was an atrocity that sent shockwaves around the world and will always be remembered by Victoria Weaver

Elsewhere in the county, Marlborough pensioner Vera Skinner was halfway to America when her plane was turned back.

The 79-year-old was on her first trip to the United States to see friends when the United Airlines jumbo jet was ordered back to Britain.

Mrs Skinner said: “They told us there was some sort of trouble in America and at first we were going to be diverted to Canada.

“We were over halfway there when they said we would be turning round and heading back to England.

“By the time we landed back at Heathrow we had been flying for about seven hours but we were treated very well and I am so glad to be back with my family.”

Mrs Skinner, who lived in Barrow Close, was met at the terminal by her anxious son Mick and his wife Marlene.

Her daughter in law, Marlene, who ran a hair stylists in London Road, said: “To start with we thought she had gone to Canada but then we heard she had been turned round so we went back to Heathrow and picked her up at about 12.30am. We had been worried because she was flying alone, but she was well looked after.”

Undeterred by her experience, Mrs Skinner said she was looking forward to making the trip to USA to visit her friend as soon as possible.

'It was the longest wait of my life'

Marlborough town councillor Hilary Cripps also spoke of her anxiety as she waited for hours to hear if her sister Linda who lives in New York had been caught up in the terrorist attacks on the city.

Coun Cripps said: “It was the longest wait of my life until I received a telephone call from Linda to say that she and Steve were OK.

“I was sitting by the telephone when the call came through saying that they were both fine.

“His brother was working in the World Trade Center but somehow he managed to get out. They are all very shocked and distressed at what has happened in their city and in other parts of America but the good news, for our family at least, is that they are all okay.”

American Eric Dougherty, who ran the Henge Shop in Avebury, could barely contain his emotion as he spoke of his thoughts for his fellow countrymen caught up in the devastating terrorist attacks.

Mr Dougherty, who had lived in England for two years, said his own family were in the state of Ohio and were well away from the areas where the terrorists struck but he said he grieved deeply for all the American families who lost relatives in the attacks.

Fighting back emotion Mr Dougherty said: “I feel sympathy for each and every one of them. It has shook me up a lot so I can hardly say what my feelings are, it’s hard to put them in words.

“It is such an unthinkable abomination that I don’t know what to say or what to do. You feel you want to do something but you don’t know what.”

The bells at St Mary’s Church were rung half-muffled on Tuesday night, the usual bell ringers practice night, in memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks.

North Wiltshire MP James Gray has had to cancel two surgeries on Friday as Parliament had been recalled.