There are few world events that have a gut-wrenching emotional impact on all of us, but when those events occur, they are forever imprinted in our memories. Not only do we remember vivid details of the event, but we remember where and what we were doing when we first heard the news. Many Baby Boomers can recall where and when they received the shocking news that John F Kennedy had been assassinated and they can recall the sense of excitement and elation when they saw the moon landing of Apollo 11. Some events are expected, but others are so unexpected and horrific, they shock us to our core.
September 11, 2001 started off as just another workday, but everything changed by mid-morning. Although many of the instant messaging technologies common today were not in place at that time, cell phones spread the news to anyone who could not crowd around a TV. News of a seemingly bad accident of a plane crashing into one of the New York Trade towers, grew worse. A second Trade tower was hit, followed by a plane crashing into the Pentagon, and finally the lost of Flight 93 in the Pennsylvania countryside. Was there more to come? All of us stopped and listened to the news of the emergency efforts in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. This was not just “interesting” news, but events too appalling to fathom. These events affected all of us, resulting in a feeling of helplessness and vulnerability that we as Americans had never before faced. Phone usage was at an all-time high, as multitudes of people called their loved ones to let them know they were okay. Actually, they were probably calling to hear the comforting sound of their voice.
As each of us struggled to comprehend the news that day, the FAA began to take unprecedented action to get the airborne planes back on the ground. This meant that over 4000 planes needed to land at airports, many far away from their intended destination. For days after the event there were no flights in the United States airways. If you had been traveling by plane on 9/11, you may have been stranded away from home. Rental car companies quickly ran out of vehicles for one way-trips. There were also reports of people buying cars just to make a return trip, and some enterprising people rented U-Haul trucks to travel.
It was certainly an eerie feeling not to see any aircraft in the sky. This, combined with us stopping to focus on the recovery from the day’s disaster, truly felt like the world was taking a pause. I’m sure all of us can say “Yes, I know where I was on 9/11” and yes I stopped for a while to think about being an American.
A pilot’s perspective of the day’s events