The life of Jonathan Egan, then an 18-year-old student, “changed forever” when he lost his father Michael Egan, 51, and aunt Christine Egan, 55, both originally from Hull, in the atrocity on September 11, 2001.
Christine was visiting her brother, a vice president at insurance giant Aon, for the first time at his office in the World Trade Centre’s south tower when it was hit by United Airlines Flight 175.
Michael, an office fire warden, died helping his colleagues evacuate, while Christine, a trained nurse, may have been helping people in the building’s lobby.
Jonathan lovingly remembered the two “proud Brits”, who came from “humble beginnings” on Hull’s Orchard Park Estate, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives, including 67 British people.
Now a parent to 11-week-old Dean Michael – poignantly named after his grandfather – Jonathan, 38, said he wished he could get some fatherly advice.
He recalled being woken up by staff at the his Los Angeles college student dormitory 20 years ago, the first inkling that something was unusually wrong.
“My room-mates were in the living room, watching the TV and they said ‘Hey Jon, look what’s happened to your city’,” he said.
“And I turned around and I saw the replay of the towers getting hit and going down and I knew that my life and the world was changed forever.”
Jonathan, a British citizen who today lives in Manhattan, New York, reached his mother Anna on the phone, who “told me that my father was gone”.
“I said ‘Well, how do you know he’s gone?’ and she said ‘I was on the phone with him, he said goodbye, he was 103 floors up, they couldn’t get to the roof, the doors were closed… I was on the phone with him when the building went down’.”
“Obviously finding out that moment that my father was dead, and just died in a terrible and tragic manner, was tough, very tough.”
He added: “He got to say goodbye to my mother which was a blessing that a lot of people that perished that day weren’t fortunate enough to do.”
As the closest DNA match to his father and aunt, he took four flights to reach his family and aid identification efforts at the “war zone” of ground zero.
“I was down there in the muck of it all, certainly sights and a memory I’ll never forget,” he said.
He remembered DNA testing being performed in refrigerated trailers where bags of body parts were being kept.
“I’m doing the testing and going through swabs, blood tests and whatnot and there’s bags on bags stacked around of what could have been my father or my aunt or somebody else’s father or aunt,” he said.
“It was a surreal and daunting experience that, along with many of the events around that day, were very maturing, I had to grow up very quickly to be able to not just handle them but carry on the way I knew I needed to.”
He remembered his father, who emigrated with his sister to Canada as young man, as a “very warm, happy person” and “intellectual and authoritative figure” who he “looked up to”.
Today, he has a tattoo with his father’s initials, an unofficial family coat of arms and the word “imagine” – a reference to Michael’s love of John Lennon and The Beatles.
Jonathan eventually completed his finance studies at Boston College and completed an MBA in International Business Management at Regent’s University in London.
He married wife Audrey, 34, in Florida in March and, following in his father’s footsteps, is a partner at insurance brokerage firm Lockton.
He remains very close to his 67-year-old mother and 36-year-old brother Matthew, who has Down’s syndrome, but admits to missing his father’s presence during key life moments.
“There’s a lot of questions along the way as you go through that, dating girls, getting married, and the birth of my son is certainly the one that has made me think about and miss my father the most,” he said.
Reflecting on becoming a parent he added: “I really started thinking… I really, really could use a chat with dad right now”.
Jonathan said he found solace over the years in music, a close group of friends, meeting other bereaved families and pouring his energies into charity work.
He sits on the Family Advisory Board for Tuesday’s Children, which supports families affected by terrorism, conflict or mass violence, and is a director for the Queen Elizabeth II Garden in New York which memorialises the Britons killed on 9/11.
He also supports UK charity Since 9/11, which uses education to promote tolerance and combat extreme views, and feels “optimistic” about the “positive impact” younger people can have.
His feeling of responsibility to help the world “do better” and joining the good work that came in the wake of the attacks has helped him feel “less isolated”.
“It’s easy to lose faith in humanity when you see certain things happening in the world, the events of 9/11 and many of the events that happened after 9/11, he said.
“But when you realise that there’s good people out there and that there’s work to be done on the ground and…. making one person’s life better or one person’s day better by even a smile or a thoughtful conversation, gives you the perspective that you need to get through a lot of the feelings that that came with the aftermath.”
He concluded: “I think the best thing we can do is help others and hope and do what we can to make sure something like this never happens again and we also never forget.”