AIN Blog: Remembering 9/11, In Your Own Words
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11, AIN asked our readers–many of whom are corporate pilots–to write the narrative by sharing their own personal stories of that day, and share they did. While some 3,650 days have passed since then, their accounts still include minute details and raw emotion, evidence that 9/11 is indelibly etched in their minds forever. Some were in the New York City metro area that fateful day, while others were across the country or even on the other side of the world. Their stories are varied, yet at the same time similar. These are their accounts:
Where was I when the world stopped turning? On Sept. 11, 2001, I was driving to Waukegan Regional Airport, from where I was scheduled to fly our boss to his weekly meeting in Manhattan. It was a perfect clear morning as I drove through the Northern Illinois countryside with the windows down and the radio up. As the radio newscaster reported the first tower being hit by an airplane, it occurred to me that we might be facing delays getting into Teterboro. I called my chief pilot, who was also driving in. While we discussed the possible implications of the “accident” in New York, the news reports of the second tower strike came on. It was very clear to us that something sinister was happening. When we reached our hangar, we joined everyone in the FBO watching the terrible spectacle unfold on television. As reports of the Pentagon attack came in, we witnessed a half dozen unscheduled business jet arrivals as all air traffic was being ordered to land at the nearest available airports. Shortly thereafter, the feds ordered the FBOs locked, the airport closed and the entrances to the airports secured, which sent us back home without even rolling our Learjet 60 from the hangar. We were lucky that we never left the ground. I had many friends and colleagues who weren’t as lucky and had to deal with the uncertainty of being grounded indefinitely far from their homes. On that day, many aspects of our industry changed forever. Robert W. Thompson, Wheeling, Ill.
We had our Learjet 35 in Brussels with the board of one of the biggest Swedish banks for a meeting there. After the first tower was hit, my brother, who was flying the Learjet that day, called me back at the office asking for support. Virtually all charter aircraft on the apron called for the fuel truck after learning of the news, and our Learjet got service first. After refueling, our crew started the jet’s engines while the board members came back. But it was more or less impossible to obtain a slot, so after loading all the passengers they started taxiing on a kind of VFR flight plan. When we started out of Brussels VFR to bring the passengers home, Eurocontrol was not functioning properly and the best communication was made via the HF via Stockholm Radio. My brother called to let me know they had started VFR out from Brussels without a flight plan due the crisis. About that time, I turned on the TV and saw that another aircraft hit the second tower. The flight came back to Bromma, Sweden, just fine, but having all the communication via the HF highlighted that an HF radio must be kept in all modern aircraft as an aid to overcoming VHF communication problems. Janne Oesterwall, Stockholm, Sweden
I was flying on a business trip to Europe in a Challenger 601 that was part of the Flight Options fleet. We landed in Luxembourg in the afternoon, got to the hotel, turned on the TV and saw the news of the attacks as they were happening on the morning of September 11. We were grounded in Luxembourg for a couple of days, then flew to Amsterdam, then to the Azores, spent a night in Bermuda, flew to Halifax, then Toronto. Drove over the border to an FBO in Detroit, where Flight Options had another plane waiting for us to fly home to Cleveland. Robert Pinkas, Pepper Pike, Ohio
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was serving as co-captain on a Saberliner 60SC. We were preparing to depart on a Part 135 flight from our Fort Wayne, Ind. base to Cape Girardeau, Mo. One of our two passengers had not yet arrived and weather at the destination was below minimums. While we were waiting, the captain’s wife called to say that a missile, or something similar, had just struck one of the World Trade Center towers. We went to the pilots’ lounge to see the news coverage. Meanwhile, the second passenger arrived and the destination weather began to show some improvement. I went to the aircraft to pick up the clearance and was advised that all traffic was grounded. I’d never heard that before! If it had not been for the late passenger and some river fog, we might have been en route, and who knows where we might have been stranded? Ray Dosh, Fort Wayne, Ind.
We had flown our Gulfstream IV into Teterboro Airport on Sept. 9, 2001. It was a beautiful day and I asked the boss to come up and look at the view of New York City and the World Trade Centers. I told him at the time that we even practiced flying through the towers in the sim. We had reservations at the WTC Marriott, but the flight attendant didn’t want to stay there, so we changed to the Marriott Times Square. I had planned a visit to Windows on the World the morning of September 11, but luckily it didn’t open until 10 a.m. I learned of the attack by a call from a TV producer and worked with him on the story from inside the Marriott Times Square. I later was the one who broke the story about United Flight 93 headed toward Washington, rather than San Francisco, as I was watching the flight tracker and saw the destination change. When the second airplane hit, I called the crew and told them we were under attack, pack up and lets head to Teterboro. It was too late. The bridges and tunnels out of Manhattan had been closed. I walked down to the Hudson and watched the towers collapse. (The horror still continues today.) We were the first airplane other than medical and law enforcement to depart Teterboro about three days later. We filed our normal route to Boeing Field and departed. The airport was then closed to all other departures. Our route took us into Canadian airspace, and coming back into U.S. airspace we were told we couldn’t reenter and would have to divert to a Canadian airport. I got on the flitephone and called the FAA Operations Center in Washington, D.C. I told them that I’m a former air traffic controller and operations inspector, and I then explained the situation and at the last minute we were allowed to land at Boeing Field. It was very strange being one of the only airplanes in the sky that day. One additional note: I had a meeting scheduled at 9:30 a.m. in Oklahoma City at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, with a U.S. Customs Special Agent. I was only able to get within about 10 blocks away and I could see the smoke, but had no idea what had happened. My friend and colleague, Paul Ice, was killed in the explosion. I am probably the only person that was at that bombing and in New York City on 9/11. I am very lucky to have missed the Oklahoma City explosion by 28 minutes and the WTC attack by an hour and a half. I will always remember both events and say my prayers for those lost in both events. Bill McNease. Robinson, Texas
Working at a small FBO in Coatesville, Pa., I needed to pick up one of our King Airs following maintenance in Atlantic City. I was the director of maintenance at the time, so my flying opportunities were not as frequent as I would have liked and we really needed to get the King Air home. Having worked in the shop all morning, I was aware of the attacks and even witnessed, on TV, the second tower get hit. I was not aware, however, that the national airspace had been shut down. Having planned to take one of our flight school Cessna 150s on the 45-minute VFR hop to deliver the King Air pilot to Atlantic City, I went to pick up the airplane key at our front desk. The girl behind the counter gave me the key, but thought it was strange that she was not hearing any traffic on Unicom. That’s when I thought I’d better look into the situation a little further and discovered the airspace was shut down. I’m glad I took that walk to the front desk and did not just use the spare maintenance key and jump in the airplane. We picked up the King Air the following week. Raymond S Benischeck, Reading, Pa.
On Sept. 11, 2001, we were headed from Jackson, Miss., to Chicago DuPage with the intention of being in Chicago for three days. As we were passing west of St. Louis in our Beechjet 400A, I was listening to a radio station that announced a “small plane, possibly a Cessna 172” had hit the World Trade Center. Just then, on Center frequency, a Learjet came on, declared an emergency and needed to make an immediate descent. I remember mentioning to my copilot how it was not a good day. Little did I realize how bad it was going to get. As we were in the pattern to land at DuPage, we learned that a second airplane had hit the towers. After landing, we told our passengers that all airplanes were being forced to land and that we didn’t know when we would be able to leave again. We watched the towers fall on TV in the pilots’ lounge at DuPage Flight Center. Since Chicago’s Sears Tower was also thought to be a target, our passengers’ meetings were cancelled and they rented a car and drove back to Jackson. We went to our hotel and fortunately had reservations; other crews were scrambling for cars and rooms. The first thing I wanted to do after that was call my wife to tell her I loved her. The world changed forever that day. About 4 p.m. on Friday, September 14, the airspace opened and we departed DuPage. It was one of the quietest trips we have ever had. As we came out of Chicago airspace, no one was on the frequency except us. James Nash, Jackson, Miss.
At approximately 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, I rolled down Runway 33 at Burlington (Vt.) International Airport, broke ground, selected gear up and climbed into a beautiful morning sky. With my two passengers in a Piper Navajo Chieftain en route to Toronto City Centre Airport, we turned west over Lake Champlain. The surface of the lake was smooth as was the air we were climbing in. It was a routine flight that I had done many times before, and the weather couldn’t have been better. After a 1 hour 45 minute flight, we landed uneventfully at City Centre Airport. My passengers confirmed their departure time for the following afternoon and went on their way. I put the Navajo to bed and caught the ferry to downtown Toronto, where I took a taxi to my hotel near the CN Tower. [The tallest freestanding structure in the World from 1975 to 2007. –Ed.] After I checked into the hotel for my one night, I called the company to check in with my flight times and hotel information. It was approximately 8:50 a.m. and the receptionist asked me if I had heard about the airplane that had just crashed into the World Trade Center. I told her that I had not, and she informed me that it was all over the news and that I should get to a TV. I assumed that it was a small single-engine airplane, as that is what I was used to seeing down the Hudson corridor. I went to the second floor of the hotel, where a small crowd had gathered around the restaurant TV. I watched as smoke billowed from the north tower and knew that it was not a small aircraft that had caused that damage. People in the crowd started to gasp, and I got an awful chill as another airplane appeared on the TV and slammed into the south tower. The crowd quickly grew larger as some people were crying, but most were speechless. I left the crowd, went downstairs to the receptionist desk and extended my room for another seven days. I had a feeling I was going to be there for a while. After I confirmed that the airspace had been shut down, I made contact with my passenger, who told me that he would find another way home, which ended up being the train through Montreal. Once I learned that there had been two United Airlines flights involved I attempted to contact my dad, who was a Boeing 767 captain with United. After more than eight unnerving hours, I finally made contact with my dad, who was in Idaho on vacation with my uncle. I spent the next two days in Toronto, which is a great city, and was constantly struck by how unusually quiet everything was. There was no traffic in the air and little on the ground. Somehow my chief pilot was able to get a clearance from Washington, D.C., and on September 13 I flew back to Burlington empty and didn’t hear another airplane on the radio the entire flight. David Kitchen, South Burlington, Vt.
I fly a FedEx Caravan for Corporate Air out of Billings, Mont. I had been cleared to take off on Runway 16L at Salt Lake International Airport and had a speed of about 20 knots when the tower controller called out, “Airspur 30. Abort, abort, abort.” He then told me to clear the runway at the next intersection, explaining that all IFR clearances had been cancelled. I figured there must be something like a radar outage and asked if I could take off VFR. I was told affirmative and was cleared back onto the runway and was instructed to “position and hold.” The next thing I heard sent cold chills down my spine: he said the entire U.S. airspace system was closed due to a national disaster. My thought was, “Have we been nuked?” What kind of a disaster would warrant stopping all aircraft in the U.S. from flying? As I taxied back to the FedEx ramp, my mind was running wild. By the time I got back to the ramp, the word was out that one of the Twin Towers in New York had been hit by an airliner. Although, while very bad, I couldn’t imagine at that time how that would warrant closing the entire airspace system. It wasn’t long before I heard that another airliner had hit the second tower, and the sad fact hit me that we were under attack. Lee Rowser, Billings, Mont.
I live in Indianapolis and at the time was flying as captain on a Starship and King Air 350. On 9/11, I was driving to the airport from my home for a mid-morning departure to southwest Florida. I was listening to the radio, and it turned into a surreal morning as news broke of an airliner hitting one of the towers. I could not believe what I was hearing. I called home and asked my with to turn on the TV to see what was going on, and she told me about the airplanes flying into the twin towers. I called the aircraft owner and canceled the flight due to the unusual situation. He agreed, and so we rescheduled for the next day. It was a good move since the skies were cleared and no flights allowed. Harvey A. Meharry, Indianapolis, Ind.
Back then, I was a pilot for Bank of America, flying a Hawker 800XP. We had landed in Seattle on Sept. 10, 2001, for a single overnight trip. My wife called around 6 a.m. local time the next morning and advised me that there was an airplane crash in New York City. I turned on the television and stayed glued to it for hours. In the early afternoon after much shellshock, we decided to get out of the hotel. Downtown Seattle was a ghost town, and you could hear military aircraft circling overhead. We were advised it would be several days before we could return to Charlotte, so clothes shopping was in order. On September 12, the aviation manager called and informed me I would be going to Gulfstream V school the next month. Much sorrow that day, but a renewal of energy after the news about GV school. David Graham, Charlotte, N.C.
I departed Indianapolis Metropolitan airport about 7:30 a.m. that day for a golf trip in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in an MU-2 with two passengers aboard. About 30 minutes into the flight, I began to hear air traffic controllers divert commercial flights to Cincinnati and Louisville, Ky. The air traffic controllers did not explain the reason for the diversions with any clarity, nor did the pilots seriously question them. I thought it was strange that no one asked, and immediately complied when they asked me to divert. The controller said to “land immediately at the nearest airport.” I replied, “I’m at 27,000 feet, but I see an airport at 12 o’clock.” To which the controller replied, “That is Prestonsburg, Kentucky, land there.” We landed and saw the second aircraft hit the second tower on the TV in the FBO. We spent the next three days in Prestonsburg waiting for the airspace to reopen. I will never forget the silence of the skies while the airspace remained closed, and how I missed my family. Louis Meiners, Indianaopolis, Ind.
I'll never forget Sept. 11, 2001 is on Tuesday because on the Sunday morning beforehand, I–then 46 years old–joined a group of young people in their 20s who listened to a sermon on suffering by an old preacher, Rev. Gordon Cathey. Having gone through World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, he told the young people that they didn’t understand what suffering means, but predicted that they would within their lifetime “very soon.” Two days later, terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and the world changed rapidly, and aviation will never be the same again. Back then I was a Jetstream J-41 captain for Atlantic Coast Airlines, flying as United Express out of Washington Dulles Airport. I was on a three-day trip (from September 10 to 12) and was overnighting at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y. after the first day. We arrived at the hotel around 11 p.m., and then the next morning my first officer woke me up over the telephone in a panic, saying we were under terrorist attack. I knew he wouldn’t joke with me like that, but it was hard for me to accept, so I asked, “Are you sure?” He told me to turn the TV on, and I said, “Let’s meet together outside now.” When I opened the door, the flight attendant was in tears crying. Later we were watching the TV at the hotel restaurant and saw both towers collapse. The whole airspace was in chaos. A tough and sad day for all. The morning crew took the overnight airplane and left early in the morning before the attack so we didn’t have the responsibility to stay with the company airplane. We didn’t expect there would be another airplane come to meet us at the airport on that day. The next day, September 12, my first officer suggested to request dispatch to release us and pay for the car rental for us to drive back to Dulles, and we did. My planned vacation started immediately after, and I didn’t have to come back to work until October 5. When I was back from vacation everything was back to order again. Herman H. Yeung, Virginia
As an ex-fighter pilot in the South African Air Force (SAAF), I had been sent to Savannah, Ga., to supervise a pre-purchase inspection of an L-39 Albatros to be purchased by the chairman of our company in South Africa. I took a South African maintenance technician with me to assist in the pre-buy inspection. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, we were walking to the briefing room at the airfield to brief and prepare for my first training flight on the L-39. Bob Jepson was kind enough to offer us use of his facilities for the training. Already wearing flying suits, as well as our helmets and other flying gear, we were all ready to go. We turned around and entered the office, where the TV was re-running the shots of the first aircraft to hit the World Trade Center. While we watched in stunned silence, one of the pilots remarked that it was shocking as the sky was clear and it was almost impossible for such a tragic accident to happen. Suddenly, everybody became aware of the second aircraft approaching the World Trade Center and we watched in disbelief as it struck the other tower. The gentleman who was to train me was an ex-U.S. Air Force F-14 Tomcat pilot who owned his own L-39. After the second airplane hit the WTC, he went outside the office and after 10 minutes he advised me that he would have to leave for Washington, D.C., adding that my training would have to be postponed for a week. He dropped me at the hotel and disappeared for a week, after which we completed the training in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. For a week, access to the airport was not permitted, so we studied the technical records of the aircraft. The hotel and airspace was active with F-18 Hornets and their crews. Johan Rankin, South Africa
I was captain on a Boeing 737 for USAirways, finishing a four-day trip, departing Theodore Francis Green State Airport in Providence, R.I., for Charlotte, N.C. As we proceeded down J75 at FL350, I noticed smoke on the horizon about 200 miles out. Chatter then began on Boston Center about an aircraft hitting the World Trade Center. As we proceeded closer to New York City, I still remember to this day the smoke blowing southeast from Manhattan. The visibility that day in the northeast was unlimited. As I peered down on the city on J75 from FL350, we passed abeam the World Trade Center at precisely 9:05 a.m., just two minutes after the second B767 struck the south tower. As we were transferred from New York to Washington center, I will never forget the controller’s instructions: “Gentlemen, please shut down all communications to your cabin [and] ensure you cockpit door is locked; we have a security breach with several aircraft.” At this point, I put everything that I had seen and heard together, and turned to my first officer, stating, “We are under attack.” My FO began to tune the ADF for news stations, but at that time it was very uncertain as to what was actually occurring. Washington Center let me continue to Charlotte, where I landed. I tried to call my wife on my cellphone, but as many that day remember, the cellphone service was clogged. As USAirways management and Charlotte tower tried to figure out what to do, a decision was made to let all inbound aircraft deplane at the gates, if available. I parked at C8 that day. That day will forever stick in my mind, as well as the crew and passengers I was in charge of that fateful day. From that point on, I have used my eyes and ears to be acutely aware of what true threats we now have. Phil Gibson, Southern California
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was flying a Piper Navajo air ambulance flight from Newcastle Airport in Tyne, England, to Dublin International Airport. I had just landed when a friend called to give me the news about the World Trade Center towers being hit by airliners. My memories were of British Airways and Lufthansa transatlantic flights having been diverted to Dublin and people being in total shock and bewilderment. I went home and watched the story unfold with my wife, who was pregnant with our first son at the time. David Hickey, Dublin, Ireland
At the time, I was in my final phase of my first commercial airline job with Express Jet and also making some extra money as an instructor at Mercer County Community College flying out of Trenton (N.J.) Airport. On 9/11 I prepared to take off at around 9 a.m. with an instrument student in Cessna 172 N6379F. When we radioed Philadelphia Departure, the controller said they were having trouble with New York airspace. We were finally cleared and departed for Atlantic City airport to do instrument approaches. Our first fix was Robbinsville VOR and as we passed I noticed black smoke coming from the World Trade Center towers. I told my student to remove her foggles and look at the fire at the towers, and I remarked that must have been what departure meant about trouble in New York City. When we checked into Atlantic City Approach, the controller told us we could not shoot approaches because all aircraft in the country were trying to land. We were asked where we wanted to go instead, and we decided to just head back to Trenton. We still had no idea what was unfolding. On the way back to Trenton, I heard another aircraft report that one of the towers had collapsed. After that, we did not hear anything else on the radio. It was an eerie odd silence. Upon approach into Trenton, we could see the gray smoke hovering over New York City. When I checked in with Trenton Tower, I was told we would not be allowed to take off again. And all the while, we were still unaware of the morning’s events. As we tied down the airplane, a coworker came out of our ops building, came up to us and said, “They got the Pentagon too.” I replied, “Who got the Pentagon?” My coworker said that it is thought to be a terrorist attack. Once I got back into the building, I learned of what happened over the previous hour and a half. I turned my cellphone on and saw my wife had been trying to reach me in vain. The fear she must have felt to hear there was a no-fly order and to hear airplanes would be shot down if necessary, not knowing if I had landed safely or not. All those innocent lives lost. The drive home was overwhelming–no cars on the road, no airplanes in the air, not even music on the local radio stations. What began as a clear, regular day quickly turned to the most horrific day in my life. Later, when my family was all home, my daughter said to my wife “that could have been my daddy flying that plane.” She was only in first grade. That will be a flight I will never forget. Wayne Eisman, New Jersey
Sept. 11, 2001, started like any other day for me. As a captain for Cherry Air on the Falcon 20, I was scheduled for a mid-morning departure. While filing my flight plan with the flight service station, I was informed that an airplane had just flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. I continued filing my flight plan when the report of a second aircraft crashing into the other World Trade Center tower came in, and then the news that all flights were being grounded indefinitely. At that time, I decided to make my way to the Cherry Air offices to see what was going on. Like most, we spent the majority of that first day watching the television. In the evening, I headed home expecting to be grounded for several days. Around 10 p.m. that night, I received a call from our chief pilot informing me to report for duty the next morning for a 5:30 a.m. briefing. I was informed of my 7 a.m. departure on September 12 for a flight which I later learned would take me from Addison, Texas, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Atlanta; Denver; and finally Santa Ana, Calif. I didn’t know how we could be flying with all other air traffic being grounded. At the briefing, I learned that because Cherry Air was one of the only operators having the necessary FAA authorizations and type of aircraft needed for the mission, we were asked to fly during this dark time. Ours was an important mission, flying blood products. That first day flying was eerily quiet in the skies–no radio calls, no traffic–just silence. When entering Atlanta Center’s airspace, and monitoring the radio, I heard a call that said, “Target, Flight Level 250.” It was at that time I realized that Atlanta was referring to me. I called Center and asked them to confirm that they were aware of my presence and permission to be flying. They responded that they were aware of me and had been since I left Addison Airport. I then asked them to please refer to me as “traffic” rather than “target.” The next radio call heard was, “Traffic, Flight Level 250.” It was then that I realized I must have had a military escort. In the days following 9/11, I flew multiple missions from coast to coast. Not having been born a U.S. citizen, I was proud to help a nation of people that considered me one of their own. My service as a pilot during this time is one of my most proud moments. Thierry Pierard, Dallas, Texas
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was flying a GIV from Abu Dhabi to Kuala Lumpur with the chairman of a major oil company, the chief counsel, their wives and the executive assistant to the CEO on the third leg of an around-the-world trip. It was nighttime in Kuala Lumpur when we landed. We secured the aircraft and were riding in the crew van with the handling agent when he told us “two aircraft crashed into the World Trade Centers.” He was speaking with a thick Malaysian accent and he didn’t say that the aircraft were airliners. We weren’t sure that we heard him right. The only thing we could imagine was that light aircraft had collided, banner towing or something of that nature. We had the usual 30- to 40-minute ride into the city. When we arrived at the hotel, CNN was on the television in the lobby. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing–the image of the twin towers burning, the thick plume of smoke rising above. We were checked into our rooms by the time the towers collapsed. By then CNN was showing clear images of the United and American airliners crashing into the north and south towers. My first officer called later and I remember him saying, with his voice shaking, “This is just terrible.” The CEO’s assistant also called and wanted to come up with some contingency plans for moving the aircraft. The passengers all wanted to go home, but after doing some checking I informed them that we could not return to the U.S. The next day I was looking out my hotel window at the Petronas Towers in the city center when CNN reported that a bomb threat had been made against the “twin towers in Kuala Lumpur.” It turned out to be a hoax, but not before my family heard the news and called to make sure that I was safe. Our CEO decided that we would continue our trip as scheduled. We made two stops in Indonesia (Jakarta and Yogyakarta) and three stops in China (Shanghai, Xian and Beijing) before returning home. We got to see the Borobudur Temple, Terracotta Warriors, Great Wall and Forbidden City all for the first time. We should have been enjoying one of the best times of our lives, but there was a dark cloud hanging over the entire trip. When the U.S. airspace finally opened up, we routed our flight through Narita, Japan, one of the five gateway airports set up after 9/11. We spent our final night in Anchorage on the way back to Houston. It was a somber trip home. Craig R. Hanlon, Wilmington, Del.
On the morning of 9/11, I took off from Wright AAF, flying a Cessna 172RG on a mission over Fort Stewart, Ga., for the U.S. Forestry Service. The task was to survey the trees in the live-fire training range at Fort Stewart, while in communication with the military Marne Radio that controlled all aircraft in the range. The quiet frequency was broken with a terse command from Marne Radio: “All aircraft in the range, put down immediately,” with no explanation. After a silence, an Army helicopter pilot operating in the range queried, “May I ask why? The controller answered, “Due to a national emergency, all airports in the U.S. were closed.” The helicopter pilot then asked what he should do with his onboard ordnance. We proceeded to land at Wright AAF and soldiers with steel helmets and M16s were securing the base. We witnessed the towers collapsing on the day-room TV. The realization of the enormity of what was transpiring was mind numbing. The Cessna 172 was impounded at Wright for two weeks. Robert J. Stewart, Savannah, Ga.
It was a beautiful Tuesday morning in St. Louis and I was flying three passengers that day on a normal out-and-back trip to Hot Springs (Ark.) Airport in our King Air 200. As I started down Taxiway Alpha at Spirit of St. Louis Airport, the ground controller came on the radio and stated, “We just got word a plane has hit the World Trade Center.” As I approached the end of Runway 26L, I had already switched over to the tower frequency, and as I finished up my checks at the hold line the tower controller stated, “We have now been told a second plane has hit the World Trade Center.” I replied, “Huh, sounds like terrorists...three five Zero Alpha Charlie ready to go two six left.” In hindsight, that apathetic statement is bothersome. I was cleared for takeoff and launched for Hot Springs. All was normal until about 100 miles north of Hot Springs, when all hell broke loose on the radio. There was constant radio traffic as controllers tried desperately to get aircraft rerouted and on the ground. Eventually they got to me and demanded to know where I “planned on landing.” As I now was about 80 miles out, I just said, “Well, how about Hot Springs?” They agreed and descended me to FL200 but no lower as ATC was shoving every airliner they could into Little Rock (Ark.) Airport. Eventually, I got a break on the radio and said, “Center, if you can get me below FL180, I’ll cancel IFR and get out of your hair.” They quickly obliged and I headed down. I think I saw six jets heading for Little Rock, all below 10,000 feet. After landing and parking, I was quickly blocked in by police cars–there were seven police cars at the airport–and told that I would not be taking off again. My passengers were picked up by colleagues for their business day, but I was able to get them a one-way rental car to drive back to St. Louis that afternoon. I spent the night, then flew home empty on 9/12 as a lifeguard to begin several days of lifeguard missions. That was a weird week. Garth Collins, Chesterfield, Mo.
Sept. 11, 2001, began as a bright and sunny day. My drive to work at Associated Aircraft Group (AAG) in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., was routine except for the fact that I saw, while I was stopped at the traffic light before entering the Dutchess County Airport, a large commercial airliner flying quite low down the Hudson River. My only thought was the plane was certainly making a low approach to Stewart Airport in Newburgh, N.Y. Little did I know its true destination. The work day was going to be routine–we already had one Sikorsky S-76 Sikorsky waiting at the Wall Street Heliport for passengers going to Boston and two other S-76s preparing to leave Duchess County Airport for other charters. Our flight dispatch office received a call from the Wall Street crew wondering if dispatch knew anything about a small aircraft hitting one of the World Trade Center buildings. At that time, we had no information of any accident. Shortly thereafter the passengers arrived for their Boston flight. Our aircraft departed Wall Street heading for Boston, not realizing the magnitude of the disaster that was still unfolding. We at AAG were now glued to the TV and saw our S-76 pass by the Twin Towers on its way to Boston. Soon the second tower was hit, and we knew we were watching a disaster unfold. I then received a call from the New York/New Jersey Port Authority asking if we could send any helicopters to the city to assist with an evacuation from the World Trade Center. I told them I could provide four S-76s immediately and was then informed to stand by for further instructions as to when and where to report. We stripped out four VIP S-76s to be able to accommodate as many people as possible. We never received the second call to launch our four aircraft. They were not needed; the attack on the World Trade Center was too devastating and no helicopter evacuation services were required. John C. Agor, Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
I departed VFR under Part 135 from Martha’s Vineyard (Mass.) Airport in my Baron 58 the morning of 9/11 with two clients headed to Burlington (Vt.) International Airport for an all-day wait and return. My wife came along for a nice little fall getaway. I was monitoring center frequency near Lebanon (N.H) Municipal Airport and suddenly heard, “All pilots are cautioned to be alert for unauthorized people in the cockpit.” I called Boston center asking for an explanation. “You’ll hear about it on the news tonight,” was the reply. I wasn’t going to wait. Grateful to have an ADF, I tuned to 1010 and then 880 AM news radio stations in New York City. I listened in shock, but remained silent, deciding that telling my passengers would create cockpit chaos. I recalled the many times I had flown down the Hudson River past the twin towers. After shutdown at Burlington, I told my wife and passengers that a World Trade Tower had fallen. All three, loudly and simultaneously, said, “What?” In the FBO, everyone was huddled around the TV watching smoke and pandemonium. My clients decided to do the business they came for. Then all U.S. airspace shut down. My wife and I spent several nights near Burlington with my clients in their home waiting for the airspace to open. Each night was filled with the sound of F-16s roaring overhead. Finally, the news came that only air carriers could fly, but no Part 91 flights. I needed luck and creativity to get home. I filed an IFR flight plan using “T” as a prefix to my N number to designate an air taxi not having an FAA-authorized call sign. Nearly every airport was closed, but not Katama Airpark, a grass field five miles from Martha’s Vineyard. Around noon on 9/15, I was the second civil aircraft to depart Burlington, the first being a Canadian-registered Cheyenne hightailing it north. I felt tense but fortunate, until 20 miles south of Burlington, when departure control announced my flight plan had been denied by the center and I was ordered to return immediately to Burlington. During the landing roll, Burlington Tower advised that in fact my flight plan had been approved and I was cleared for takeoff again. I then became the third civil aircraft to depart the airport. After a bit more than an hour en route, I arrived into Cape Approach’s airspace. I had waited to make my move. Nearing Martha’s Vineyward, I requested to change my destination. “Sure, no problem, contact Vineyard Tower.” I was the first post-9/11 airplane to land there, and a sweeter landing I can’t recall. We later learned that when the higher ups had specified only “air carriers” be allowed to fly, they had no idea the order would also include single-pilot operators like me. Sometimes it's good to fall between the cracks. Ted Stanley, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.