9-11 A Day We Will Never Forget
It was a blue sky day when we drove into the Philadelphia Airport to return home from a family wedding. We had been gone a week and were ready to be home. We arrived at the airport, returned our car, checked our luggage and never dreamed that it was a day we would never forget, that our country would always remember.
Our flight left 10 minutes late, about 8:35 am. My husband and I sat back, chatted about the wedding and our visit and looked forward to getting home to our dogs.
Just after 9am, the pilot came on the intercom and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I remember thinking how odd that was since the day was so clear. How could the pilot have not seen the Twin Towers? I dismissed it with the brief thought that it must have been a cessna with an inexperienced pilot.
A little more than a half hour later, the pilot came back on the intercom to tell us we would be landing in Milwaukee. No further explanation, no discussion about what would happen next, no questions answered by the attendants.
At that point, our seat mate used one of the satellite phones to call about his job interview and explain that he would try to get on another flight if we were to have too much of a delay.
When he hung up that phone, his face was a pale grey as he explained to us that several planes had been hijacked, two had hit the Twin Towers, attacks on the White House were expected and all planes were being grounded.
Stunned does not begin to explain how I felt at that moment. It was more like icicles had formed in my veins, stopping the blood cold. Then, as realization strikes, you begin to look at the people around you and wonder if we’re next, will our plane be hijacked? Will we actually land in Milwaukee and safely walk off the plane?
I had never had a fear of flying. My father had owned a small plane from a time before I was born, and I thought it was a game to pick what city to fly to for lunch or to ask him to dive the plane to look at a jack rabbit as a four year old. Suddenly, the plane was no longer something fun or a mode of transportation. Perhaps it was a death trap.
As I pondered this, it became obvious that more people on the plane were becoming aware of what was happening on the ground as more and more people were informed by loved ones on the ground.
The attendants couldn’t or wouldn’t answer our questions about what was happening. All we could do was sit and wait and wonder as small pieces of the story came to us from the “real” world.
Finally, the pilot came back on the intercom and informed us that we would be escorted off the plane and not permitted to take anything with us. Then we were informed that we would have to take all carry on luggage off the plane with us. It was obvious that no one in charge of the plane knew exactly what was going to happen either.
Eventually, after time that passed more slowly than a crawling snail, we landed in Milwaukee. As soon as the plane touched down, cell phones appeared by the dozens. Futilely, the captain informed us that cell phones were not to be used until we had arrived at the gate and the doors had been opened.
No one was willing to wait; all were calling home, friends, loved ones to find out what was happening and to tell them we were safely on the ground.
Like many others, I called my mother hoping that she was still asleep, unknowing in California and that I could reach her before she saw the television. But, my mother-in-law had called her hoping she had heard from us. Gratefully, I told my mother where we were and that we would contact her when we knew more. She asked that I call my mother-in-law immediately. I did, setting her mind at ease.
Eventually, we were allowed off the plane and into a scene of chaos. As were rushed off the plane, we were herded under mostly closed gates inside the airport, hustled past guarded bathrooms and told to keep moving. Moving to where we didn’t know, so we kept moving only to stop in front of the televisions at an airport bar. It was there that I saw the South Tower collapse and footage of people falling to their deaths. Stunned, I stopped to watch more, but my husband insisted that we keep moving.
We had no idea what was coming next, and he wanted to get our luggage, if possible, and get out of the airport. At that point, we didn’t know if we could get our luggage, if our plane would be taking off again later that day. We knew nothing, and no one in charge knew either. We were told that we could sit in the airport or call in a few hours as they expected that our plane would leave a little later in the day.
We were fortunate that day. Our plane landed safely on the ground; we were able to get our luggage, find a rental car and a hotel room for our extended and unexpected stay in Milwaukee. For those who were not so lucky, for those brave souls who rushed up the stairs while everyone else was rushing to escape, it is a day burned into the very fabric of their families’ lives with only the consolation of those they were able to save and their memories.
My mother knows where she was on the day JFK was shot and what she was doing. I never truly understood that until 9-11 and wish that I still did not.
May our country gain strength from that day while remembering that diversity is what made our country great and will continue to do so.