Wow, it is hard to believe that it has been twenty years since our world changed. Twenty years since we, as a community, nation, as a society, were changed for ever. Twenty years since an act of terrorism shook our world to its very core. Today we remember those whose lives were taken, the mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, taken from those who loved them, taken from their families and friends in an act of terror that still affects our society to this day.
I sat in my room transfixed watching the coverage of this news event not knowing what else was going to happen. Believing that this was just a terrible accident. That it could not have been a deliberate act against the United States. But no, that was wrong when at 9:30am ET a second plane flew itself into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It was not an attack against the United States, it was an attack against the world. It only happened here is the United States. Then it happened live on national television, at 9:03am ET a second plane
At that time, we were not aware that the Air Traffic Controllers up and down the east coast were trying to get a handle of the situation they now found themselves in. They were frantically trying to get guidance from the federal government on how to proceed. They were contacting every plane that was currently in the air, and they were trying to impose a no-fly zone over New York City and the surrounding area.
I immediately called the office to try and find out what my next steps should be. I was told that they were working with the travel department to determine what was going to happen. I called my coworker and he and I continued to watch the coverage and tried to contact our families to let them know we were safe and still at the hotel. Then it happened a third time that day, it was reported that another plane had been crashed into the Pentagon outside of Washington DC, it was 9:37 am ET. It was at that time that we realized that this was a coordinated attack on our way of life. Our lives would forever be changed and there was real fear that stretched across to every person in America. It was then that we first heard that the three planes that were involved in this attack were Commercial Aircraft.
What we didn’t know at the time was that there was a fourth plane that had been hijacked. This plane was flying over western Pennsylvania that was United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757 with 44 souls on board. Air Traffic Controllers were desperately trying to get in contact with the plane to determine if it was a threat and where it was heading. This was the only plane where the passengers were able to contact the ground using the Air Phones that were on planes at the time. The passengers and remaining crew members found out about the attacks from their loved ones and formed a plan to retake the plane. During this attempt the high jackers placed the jet into a dive and flew it into the ground outside of Shanksville, PA, their target it was later discovered was the US Capitol Building. Their story would later become the basis of the 2006 film United 93. If you have never seen this movie, I highly recommend watching it to fully understand what happed during this tragic day were
Then it happened on national TV, something we thought would never happen, at 9:59am ET the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed sending a cloud of debris and dust across lower Manhattan. Then again at 10:28am ET, just 29 minutes later, the North Tower joined it’s twin and collapsed. It was a surreal scene to watch and would be seared in my memory forever.
My sister called my wife to find out if she had heard from me. She also told her that they had finally heard from my dad, he was in Chicago connecting to his flight to Indianapolis. They had boarded his flight and were taxing to the runway when the no-fly order went out to ground every flight in the US except for military operations. They were returned to the gate and were then informed as to why the flight was grounded. He was going to try and rent a car to drive the three hours to Indianapolis, from there he would try to figure out how he was going to get back home.
I finally was able to get through to my wife later that morning and told her that we were not sure how or when I would be back home. When we did hear from the office, they told us to stay put as we were not going to be travelling that day. We both called home to inform our families that we were safe and staying in Southern California until we could get flight out. We continued to watch the coverage of the event of the day, and I could tell it was taking a toll on my coworker. He was a member of the West Virginia Air National Guard and had been in contact with his Commanding Officer. He was told that his unit, at the time, had not been activated, but if it was, he would make sure that he would be given access to a military transport from Los Alamitos Army Airfield. I could see him getting more and more agitated as we watch the coverage unfolding before us on the TV. I also knew that I could not continue to watch what was unfolding on TV and suggested that we get out of the hotel and do something to get our mind off of what was happening in across the country. He agreed and we decided to do some shopping. We headed to the closest Walmart to pick up the things we needed and then do some sightseeing. It was just what was needed, retail therapy.
The hotel we were staying at was great, they made sure that everyone that was registered was still on property. They were very proactive and making sure that their guests were well taken care of. The Executive Staff held a reception each night to keep tabs on their guests and make sure that we were handling the situation we found ourselves in. Some of them that lived in the same region were able to make arrangements to travel by car back to their homes and the hotel staff was great about getting those groups places to stay along their planned route. It was all about helping those people around you. I think that one of the unexpected outcomes that came out of this tragedy was that strangers were helping each other in ways that were unheard of in recent memory.
We were able to keep in touch with our families’ multiple times a day during the rest of that week. On Wednesday night I was sitting by the pool at the hotel, and it was the first time I noticed how quiet it was. I looked up and did not see the usual air traffic heading to Long Beach or LAX, there were no helicopters taking news crews or tourists sightseeing around the area. It was just quiet. I was able to finally reflect on the events that occurred and broke down right there at the pool. I was not the only one either, it was a very emotional time, and most people were sharing their feelings openly.
My Wife, who at the time, was the Restaurant Supervisor at a downtown hotel in Wilmington. She told me about the scores of guests that were flowing through the hotel on their way to New York to find their loved ones. Hotels all along the I-95 Corridor became a lifeline of sorts. People who were looking for loved ones left messages in the hope that the people they were looking for would see their messages. Guests were able to light candles on the bar to keep hope of finding their loved ones alive and to be reunited with them.
Me and my coworker were stranded in Los Angeles until that weekend. My coworker was able to fly home to West Virginia on a commercial flight that Friday. I flew out on Saturday back to Philadelphia. When I landed and saw my wife for the first time in a week, I held her tight and cried tears of happiness to be back with her.
Ahead of the 2017 observance of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, CNN compiled a list of statistics around the attacks and their aftermath.
The 9/11 Memorial & Museum - https://www.911memorial.org/
Flight 93 National Memorial - https://www.nps.gov/flni/index.htm
National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial - https://pentagonmemorial.org/