London, Ont. lawyer recalls witnessing plane hit tower in Manhattan on morning of 9/11

Two decades after he witnessed the deadliest terror attack in human history, a London, Ont. lawyer still has vivid memories of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mike Peerless had just arrived in New York City (NYC) on one of the last planes to fly into LaGuardia Airport that day.

"I got in a cab, and was driving downtown and was within four or five blocks of the World Trade Center," says Peerless, a Managing Partner at McKenzie Lake Lawyers LLP, who was planning on flying in and out that same day.

"We were crossing a bridge going into Manhattan and you could see smoke coming out of one of the towers. I asked the driver what that was, and he said 'Ah, they're shooting a movie’.”

He thought that was a reasonable explanation in NYC, but as they got closer to his destination, he realized that wasn't the case.

"I called my, my wife, and then she didn't answer," says Peerless. "Then I called my secretary to say, 'I just saw an American Airlines, 757 turn and hit the other tower'.”

Arriving to a scheduled meeting, he waited in the lobby. The first tower then came crashing down, his meeting was canceled and his building was evacuated.

"I walked a couple blocks closer to see what was going on, and then I was within three or four blocks watching the second building collapse," he said.

"At that point in a lot of things went through my mind, like I bet it's going to be hard to get out of here tonight, so I found a hotel and the streets were completely shut down.”

Peerless called back to London, and spent a few hours doing live radio with Steve Garrison and Ryan Spence on 1290 CJBK until his Blackberry died.

"I then I went out with a lot of other people who stood in line at St Vincent's Medical Center to donate blood," says Peerless. "There was a lineup that went for blocks and I was in that line for four or five hours. They finally came out and said we just can't take any more blood.”

Peerless goes on to say, “they thought there were going to be injured people, but as I understand, there really weren't any critically injured people. They were dead or had long-term chronic injuries so nobody really needed blood."

Covered in ash from being so close to the scene, he remembers the first responders coming to grips with what had just taken place, hours earlier.

"Firefighters and police officers were sitting on the curb, really covered in ash, like white," says Peerless.

"They were in tears looking like someone from a World War One shellshock scene in a movie.” He remembers the streets being empty, not a single car on Fifth Avenue, but fighter planes flying overhead.

That day changed his life. He immediately started to get in better shape feeling “life is too short.” Having been at the 'Windows' bar at the top of the World Trade Centre multiple times for work, he says the attacks really hit home.

Peerless still travels a lot for work and pleasure, and this week CTV News spoke with him via Zoom from an airport in Iceland.

Twenty years later he still feels the impact of 9/11 with the security measures in place before boarding his flight home. "It was easier before 9/11," says Peerless.

"I will say every time I'm in an airport I hear someone angry at a gate agent or something I think to myself, boy, you know there's way worse things that could be happening than your flights delayed for some reason. I think it had a real effect on me, despite the fact that, you know obviously I wasn't personally affected in any way.