I had a chilling experience on 9/11 and wanted to share it for the first time on the blog. I apologize because in much of the world it is already September 12, but here in America I’m just getting around to blogging after spending most of the day staining my deck. It is a project my son and I have been working on since last weekend. We should finish this weekend if the weather cooperates.
On the morning of 9/11, I was watching Good Morning America while getting ready for work. I was headed out the door and just about to turn off the TV when Charlie Gibson, one of the hosts, said that there was a report that a “small plane” had crashed into the World Trade Center. Being a private pilot who flew single-engine airplanes, I couldn’t leave until I knew more.
When the program returned from a commercial break and switched to a live shot of the Trade Center I was floored. I had expected fog and low overcast. In cloud, it is possible that a pilot of a small plane might lose track of their position and accidentally collide with a tall structure like the Trade Center. That was the likeliest scenario I could think of. Instead the camera showed a brilliant morning with excellent visibility and not a cloud in sight. “Severe clear” as pilots sometimes say.
WTF! Pardon my french but that is exactly what I said out loud. And the hole in the first tower was way to big to be made by a small aircraft. Huge clouds of dense smoke billowed out of two places high on the building. I sat down to listen to the commentary. Since I had no meetings or other appointments, there was no way I was leaving for work at that point. I didn’t mind being late for work.
The host and reporters were describing the scene, speculating about what happened and interviewing people on the street. No one they talked to had actually seen what happened.
Then as the TV cameras remained trained on the twin towers, what was obviously a commercial airliner came into view at very low altitude and flew straight into the other tower, erupted into a ball of flame and objects shot out of the building on the opposite side from the impact point. The wings seemed to be banked about 30 degrees at impact although it wasn’t clear if the plane was turning. The aircraft hit the second tower several floors lower than the where the first tower was hit.
It was absolutely intentional. There could be no other conclusion. I don’t think I said anything other than maybe the F word. I watched for another minute and decided I needed to get my butt into work a.s.a.p.
I worked for a public utility headquartered in Cincinnati, OH. My office was on the 27th floor of a 30-story downtown office building. It was one of the tallest buildings in town. At work people were gathered around TVs. I arrived just in time to hear about the plane that crashed into the Pentagon and then saw each tower fall. Seeing the towers collapse was more traumatic than seeing the plane hit the second tower. We witnessed the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people. No one inside those towers could have survived.
The ordeal that morning wasn’t over because there was a fourth plane that had been hijacked. The TV tracked its movements and reporters and talking heads speculated about the intentions of the hijackers. When it crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, I felt relief that the nightmare appeared to be over, at least for now.
But no one knew what would happen next. Terrorism was the prime suspect but no one knew who had attacked or why. Air traffic was completely halted in the U.S. for several days. Later in 2001, the U. S. Transportation Security Agency (TSA) was formed and began the process of passenger identification and screening that we continue to endure to this day.
I do not object to these security checks although I’m sometimes displeased with how they do them. I have enrolled in TSA Pre, which usually has a shorter line, permits keeping your shoes on, and leaving a laptop, liquids and gels inside your backpack. Now, the majority of international airlines that fly to the U.S. are part of this program that is open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
The government spends a lot of money on TSA security and passengers spend untold hours waiting in line. However, it is passengers themselves that are the biggest deterrent to hijackings and terrorist acts in the air. Before 9/11, if a terrorist wanted to take over an airplane, passengers generally would not interfere. In the post 9/11 reality, at least some of the passengers will take action to prevent a takeover or to crash the airplane before it reaches the terrorists target.
On a more personal note, the day after 9/11 I learned that a person I had worked with but who had recently retired 9/11 lost a son in the attack. His son worked worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, an investment and financial services company, on one of the floors above where the first plane struck the Trade Center. The firm lost 685 employees that day. About six months after the attack, my friend received a tube about the size of your forearm that contained all of the his son’s remains that could be identified through DNA analysis.
In 2017, I took a free walking tour of lower Manhattan that stopped at The National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
Everyone who comes to New York should see this site. I found it moving.
My mother was a freshman in high school on December 7, 1941. She described the shock of hearing on the radio about the Pearl Harbor attack that brought the U.S. into WWII. For Americans born prior to 1990 or so 9/11 is their Pearl Harbor. It is an event that is seared into the memories of those who witnessed it in person or on TV. Unfortunately, it seems likely that 9/11 won’t be the last American tragedy.