A RIBBLE VALLEY man who was caught up in the September 11 terror attacks says he feels he was both lucky and unlucky as he reflects on the horrific events 20 years on.

Dermot Finch had been working in Washington for the British Government since June 2001 and was attending a two-day conference in the World Trade Center that fateful day.

He was staying in the Marriott hotel which was between the North and South towers.

The now 53-year-old was getting ready in his hotel room for the second day's events when the drama unfolded and the first aircraft rammed into the North Tower.

He said: “I was there on business for the British Embassy and had the television on. Within two or three minutes I knew what was happening.

“I got myself together to go downstairs and there were lots of other people in the lobby. They were trying to get us out when the second plane hit the tower above our heads.

“There were a lot of policemen who were helping us to get evacuated and many of them were putting their lives on the line for us to get people out.

“We were told not to look up above our heads as we walked away.

“When the events were unfolding I spent about an hour walking and because Manhattan is an island I ended up going in a bit of a circle which made me end up in the danger zone. I was only three blocks away when the towers collapsed.

“I managed to escape and get into a safe place in the New York Stock Exchange and they put the shutters down after I got in.

“The main emotions of then and now? I was both unlucky to have been there in the wrong place at the wrong time and being so close to it but also very lucky to get out safely and be alive.

“It was unbelievable I should even be there at the time or even to think that this would ever happen.

“It is something that you wouldn't wish on anybody.

“But I still feel so lucky not to be hurt and I am thankful to the total strangers who helped me to stay safe.

“There were many thousands of people who will have had worse experiences of it than me on the day and since the event.”

Like hundreds of Brits, the family of the former Clitheroe Royal Grammar School pupil were frantically trying to find out if he was safe.

Dermot said: “This was 20 years ago, we did have early mobile phones but they were not working and people did not realise where their family or friends were. Unlike today most people have mobile phones with strong signals and you can track someone down in seconds.

“It was a huge relief when my family were able to understand that I was safe. That happened a number of hours later that day as I walked to the New York mini embassy and could get a phone call to them.

“I spoke to my dad and I was so relieved to be able to hear his voice.”

Years have gone by and Dermot visited Ground Zero on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

He spoke to the Lancashire Telegraph in 2011 when he described how all he could see was ‘falling debris’ and how it was like a ‘disaster movie’.

Now Dermot, who was born in Whalley, says he will be having a respectful reflection today in his own way for the people caught up in the events.

He says the events of September 11, 2001, have made him thankful for the life that he has.

“On significant anniversaries such as this one I will be thinking about people who lost their lives and the families left behind and also those traumatically affected by it. But generally throughout the years I have tried to not give it much thought.

“I have gone on to have a good life in the last 20 years and it could have been so different. I have had some positive things happen such as getting married to my husband Tim and I am thankful.

“Normally you would think the worst thing that could happen to you was a car crash or someone becoming really ill, but I was so close to one of the worst events in living memory. I know that bad things can happen but I can now sometimes think the worst, jump to bad conclusions and get anxious about things because of what has happened to me.

“There is a residual anxiety but I am thankful for the life I have. For my family, friends and colleagues.”

Dermot is still grateful for the people who helped him to stay safe and now he is helping others by working for the Prince's Trust, a role he's had since 2012.

“I wanted to give something back. I am working to help those in need in the UK but also in Canada, Australia and other parts of the Commonwealth.”