TWENTY years ago, a group of 150 people from Bournemouth and Poole travelled to New York City in the wake of the deadliest terrorist attack in US history – a visit that’s fondly remembered by those they met.

The month was November 2001. Two months before, hijackers flew two planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Virginia, and another into a field in Pennsylvania after a group of heroic passengers fought back.

Inside a packed conference room, New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was surrounded by journalists from major American networks. The mayor would answer three questions and no more. The first two were asked by senior reporters from the likes of CNN and NBC – the third question was asked by the then news editor of the Bournemouth Daily Echo, Andy Martin. 

Bournemouth Echo: Rudy Giuliani and Daily Echo news editor Andy Martin. Picture: Corin MesserRudy Giuliani and Daily Echo news editor Andy Martin. Picture: Corin Messer

In the summer of that year, Stephen Bath, owner of Bath Travel – later incorporated into Hays Travel, organised Christmas shopping trips from Bournemouth and Exeter Airports to New York.

Having sold out both aircraft in days, 600 passengers were set to travel to the Big Apple. 

Former Daily Echo editor Andy Martin said: “Following the attacks on September 11, most passengers decided to cancel the trip as they understandably didn’t feel totally safe travelling at that time. 

“However, Stephen was left with 150 passengers who were still keen to go. We’re friends so he asked if I wanted to come along and report on all these people defying terrorist fears by heading to New York – I said yes and we set off from Bournemouth on November 18. 

“The smoke was still rising from Ground Zero.”

Before leaving, Andy and Echo photographer Corin Messer met with the then Dorset Fire Service who provided a cheque for more than £24,000 to be given to a New York fire station in a show of solidarity with their “comrades from across the pond”.

During the three-day trip, Andy reported on the happenings of the trip by filing reports at midnight and emailing them back to Bournemouth.

When it came to presenting the cheque, Andy and Corin had no prior idea as to which fire station would receive it.

While walking down West 43rd Street in Manhattan, they came across the home of Engine Company 65.

“We knocked on the door and told them who we were and that we’d like to hand over this cheque for £24,000,” recounts Andy.

Bournemouth Echo: Fire house 65 of the New York Fire Department. Picture: Corin MesserFire house 65 of the New York Fire Department. Picture: Corin Messer

“They invited us in and were hugely grateful. You got a real sense of gratitude and hope from these guys who were all heroes and it was a pleasure to be able to help them in that way.”

Just under 20 years later on Thursday September 9, 2021, Andy was “astonished” to see that a fireman from Company 65 had tweeted him a picture of the original Echo report that he had kept on his wall. 

Fireman Robert Lopez, who lost seven colleagues on 9/11, tweeted: “I’ve had this on my wall close to 20 years now. 

“I want to say thank you after all these years for your generosity and kindness that night you stopped by. Hope this finds you well, Mr. Martin.”

Andy said: “I was gobsmacked, it was amazing to see that he still remembered our visit after so long. We sent the Company our report in the post and I had forgotten we’d done that. 

“To see Rob Lopez get in contact was astonishing and emotional. I told my son that it shows how journalists can make real difference to people and not even know it.”

The 150 visitors from the Bournemouth and Poole area were a welcomed sight for New Yorkers, who showed “overwhelming gratitude” to the tourists for helping their economy and showing support. 

Near the end of the trip, Andy, who is now regional editor for Newsquest, and Corin managed to “politely gatecrash” a news conference helmed by then mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. 

Despite the heavyweights of the American media surrounding him, Andy asked Mr Giuliani what his message was to the people from Dorset who had visited and to those around the world who were apprehensive.

Mayor Giuliani thanked those who came and implored those with reservations to “please come” to help the city move forward.

Andy concluded: “Mayor Giuliani looked very puzzled at first when I introduced myself. I think he was wondering, Bournemouth Echo? Who?

“As I look back, it was truly humbling to be there and to be able to do our bit to support such great people. 

“New York is one amazing city.”

In 2019, former Company 65 firefighter Andrew S. Gargiulo, who also received the cheque from Andy Martin, died from cancer attributed to time spent at Ground Zero.

Bournemouth Echo: Company 65 firefighter Andrew Gargiulo. Picture: Corin MesserCompany 65 firefighter Andrew Gargiulo. Picture: Corin Messer 

In September 2020, his name was added to the New York City Fire Department World Trade Center Memorial Wall.

The events of September 11, 2001 claimed 2,977 lives. Among them were 67 British nationals.