So it is eleven years later.
The morning of 09/11/2001 I left my home on Duke Street in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia (my front door to the Pentagon as the crow flies was less than 4 miles) to go to Ronald Regan National Airport (DCA). I was hopping a flight that morning to commute to work in New York City.
Back in those days in the airline industry, there were only a few other air carriers who would let other company’s employees on their flights to ride to work for free (my company always did). But one of these that I could use was a company that was based out of Raleigh Durham, NC (RDU) so I was taking a flight that morning from DCA to RDU to change planes for one to NYC (JFK). At this point in time, my company did not yet fly to DCA or RDU.
I was seated at the window on aircraft left (this is the location of the pilot’s left as he sits in the cockpit looking forward) on a small commuter plane that took off at about 9:20am from DCA on the runway heading to the north making a low arc immediately to the left when airborne to get on a southern heading for RDU. If you look at the google earth image for this, you can see that as I looked out the window on a left banking turn heading north out of DCA that I was looking right down on the Pentagon.
Because it was such a small plane, we were turning so slow and low that if there had been people walking in the central court yard that morning I would have been able to see their hair color. 25 minutes later the Pentagon was hit by something and within minutes after that, all air traffic in America was ordered to land immediately. Later I learned that we were one of the last aircraft to take off from DCA as the FAA started holding flights on the ground at about 9:25am. I am one of the last people on the planet to have seen the Pentagon intact from the air.
A flight from DCA to RDU on average takes about 42 minutes. Because at the point that all planes in American airspace were ordered grounded (about 9:45am) the flight crew had already begun landing checks and we were only 20 minutes from RDU, I believe this is why we were allowed to just continue there to land. (We were in a plane that was small enough to land without the need for a long runway at a major airport).
As I work as a flight attendant, I have a unique understanding of the process for the preparations needed to land an aircraft and immediately with this landing I knew that something was up. We came in high and fast and as we were landing, I could see that we were in a packed landing pattern, that emergency equipment was already deployed on the landing field and that too many aircraft were already on the ground and in taxi patterns than was normal for an airport the size of RDU.
No unusual announcements were made as we were taxing to the gate. However, as people were deplaning those heaven sent pilots of that flight pulled me aside to privately let me know that during the flight all aircraft in America had just been immediately grounded and that something major was up. Instantly I turned on my cell phone as I was walking up the jet bridge into the terminal and discovered it was out of service (my cell phone # is of the Carrie Bradshaw coveted (917) area code numbers from Manhattan). It wasn’t just that the cell tower lines were full yet, as I would come find out later, my area code cell tower home network was completely destroyed.
As I got into the terminal gate area the requisite waiting area TVs were all showing images of the twin towers and the Pentagon on fire with the message flashing that they had been hit by planes. Other than the TV noise, it was so silent that a pin could have been heard dropping on that concourse.
My first thought on seeing those initial images was for my family. All they knew about me at that time was that I was taking a flight from DCA to JFK to go to work that morning. Remember at this stage of the morning this is before anything was known or released about what type or company the planes were from and where they had taken off from. I knew in their minds at that moment that it was an actual and very real possibility for them that I had been in one of those planes and that I potentially could be dead. In that moment of realization I SPRINTED to the nearest pay phone.
Things were so fresh and people so stunned still that there were not the long ques of people waiting to use the pay phones yet and the lines available to call out were not jammed. I immediately left the message on two family member’s answering machines that I was alive and fine and in RDU and that once I knew what was going on and what I would be doing I would call them again. I am so grateful that those pilots alerted me to what was going on and I had the presence of mind to make those calls right then as once the phone lines went crazy, I was not able to get a call out again until 9pm that night.
After using the phone I then turned my attention to the airport and the people around me. It is very telling to watch what happens to people in a crisis. I immediately started to make an assessment about my options. I ran to a car rental agency counter and inquired about renting a car to get home (about a 5 hour drive)…and at that point a few were still left.
The airport staff were WONDERFUL. As my air carrier did not fly to RDU back then, I had no company support to help me, but I had complete strangers offering to take me home with them, to feed me and to let me stay with them until I could get a car / train / ride of some description home to Virginia.
Just as I was about to use a computer to look at Amtrak train tickets, a mechanic walked by and seeing my uniform, inquired if I knew that one of my company’s planes had made an emergency landing there in RDU. In all the traffic jam on the tarmac I had not seen one of our planes. He said that he had just helped deplane a full flight that was bound from JFK to Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL). As he had all the locally required credentials to get me into the belly of the airport at RDU he then took me to an outdoor provisioning staging area by the runway where I found the two pilots and four flight attendants from my airline sitting and waiting for instructions from our company as to what would be happening to them.
Now at that time, the company that I fly for had only been in business for a year and a half. We were still small and everyone knew everyone. It was like finding family with water at an oasis in the desert. I had already flown with each of them before and even one of them had been in my initial training class. There was this sense of utter relief that I now had support to help figure out what was going on and what we should do. Immediately my company in NYC asked if I would please stay with this crew as they were being told that repositioning of planes with qualified crew was going to become very important. I said I would happily do whatever I could.
To cut a long story short, my company is amazing. Not only did they end up blocking rooms in hotels for all their customers and us crew that night, but they also helped other stranded airline crews whose companies were so big that with so many planes down in the wrong places that they were lost in their tracking systems. They then ended up hiring buses and the next day bused any customer who wanted to go back to JFK getting them as close as they could at EWR (New Jersey just across the river from NYC) and those who wanted to go to FLL where bused there, too. Not only did they do that when they did not have to, but they also opened up the empty seats on those buses for free to other stuck people (no trains running yet…no rental cars still to be found). I think a whole group of off duty firemen from the RDU area ended up riding up with my company to NYC to offer help and support in the city.
The flight crew that I hooked up with had been on what is referred to as a “day turn”. This means it was about a 6 hour work day where they started in JFK flew to FLL and then by the afternoon they should have been back at JFK. Now all good airline crews always bring a few small emergency personal care items with them (there is a joke about the way you can tell that someone is a flight attendant is because they always have a tooth brush, peanut butter and and extra pair of pantyhose in their purse :)), but this crew ended up being stuck for days away from home base after planing for only hours. Because I had been traveling to work, luckily I had my entire multi-day trip flight luggage with me. However, as I was planing to be 2hrs in route, I had a fully charged cell phone with me, but my charging cords were left at my apartments in Virginia and NYC! (Since 9/11 I never once left home without a cell phone charger that is car and plug in adaptable on my person).
The next day as soon as airlines got permission to relocate their empty planes to where they were needed, the crew and I did what is referred to as a “ferry flight” repositioning the empty airplane from RDU to FLL. Then in FLL (I think it was the next morning) when American airspace finally opened for commercial travel, I was privileged to fly with this crew on one of the first flights to land at JFK in New York City after their airspace was open. I am one of the first American civilians to have seen ground zero from the air.
Now there are many other interesting details that could be shared about these days like the eeriness of being in empty, dark airports with the lights off that for YEARS before had been open and full of people 24/7. About how the general public (well at least in FLL where I flew) had not been told that air carriers had been given permission to reposition their empty planes and how everyone sitting out on Miami beach was calling 911 as we landed as they knew airspace was still closed, yet they were afraid they were seeing another hijacked plane that was about to do something nefarious. There are dozens of stories I could share about the wonderfulness of complete strangers who were helping each other, learning the truth of character of those who could and could not step up to the plate in a crisis and how all facades drop and people show their core truth of love or bigotry in a crisis.
However, what I really want to end with is what 9/11 did for me in terms of my learning to trust my own guts and instincts. I offer these thoughts here as just ideas to contemplate. I do not intend to try to convenience anyone of anything, only to just ask that we carefully question ourselves and our ability to innocently and even with the best intention not to, still succumb to illusion. As an example of this I offer:
(yes the whole thing is almost 2o minutes…but really you will get the gist if you just go through the hand exercise with him in the first minute).
The nature of our reality is not always what it seems.
For me related to 9/11:
In the hours and first days after 9/11 my life was configured so that I had nothing to do but spend my time sitting alone in hotel rooms in RDU and FLL which I did glued to the TV for hours on end (which is rare for me…I have not had TV in my home for over 12 years…since giving everything to my sister 3 years ago, I haven’t even owned one to watch movies on!). Because of this, I did not miss much of the media coverage at all. During this time, I kept waiting for some key things that ALWAYS happen with the media when they are covering a big news story that never did happen. It is was this that initially started me thinking, just like Marcellus to Horatio after some disturbing events in Hamlet, that “something (was) rotten in the state of Denmark”. From very early on, this is why I did not buy the official story that was so quickly being woven at that time. Let me share just a few reasons why.
Because I lived less than 4 miles from the Pentagon I happened to know that some major highways drive right by the side that was hit. I knew them intimately because I drove them all the time. If you look at google earth you can see that Washington Boulevard (VA hwy 27) and the Columbia Pike (hwy 244) go right by within yards of the side of the building!
From the picture if you do not know the area, what you cannot tell is that coming from the south heading north, these roads are coming down off a bit of a rise or hill offering a great view down onto the Pentagon. At the time of the morning the Pentagon was struck, Washington DC commute traffic on these roads would have still been pretty thick. There should have been hundreds and hundreds of people who clearly saw the plane from their cars or who were in their cars and should have heard and felt a plane go within feet right over their heads (see my Joy of Illegal Things post for the St Maarten landing video which shows what this would have been like). I kept waiting those days for the media to interview these eye witnesses and for them to say in those early reports that it was an American Airlines plane that they saw hit the Pentagon. They never did.
Then later when I learned that at the World Trade Center complex building 7 had collapsed at 5:20pm after it only took the WTC south tower 56 minutes to collapse after first being hit at 9:02am I knew that the structural math just did not add up. Not having much experience with structural engineering of any type, this is when I started seeking out information from the experts.
A voice of intelligence and reason that I have found within the 9/11 cacophony over the years is Dr. Judy Wood. I offer for your consideration the following:
Yes they are long videos, but the powers that be are counting on us to be lazy and not to do the work to arm ourselves with as much information as is possible before we decide what happened. I do not say here that everything this woman says is right, but I do appreciate the integrity and honor she brings to her approach in using her education to look at the facts.
It is our responsibility to do all we can to exercise our own discernment using the power of as much information as we can glean. Somewhere out there I believe there are forces that hope we won’t make the time to do this as we are so busy watching American Idol and the NFL that there is little time left to do anything else. 2 hrs of your life. Gift them to yourself.
The completion of the story of my experience with the immediate 9/11 events involves landing at JFK with no way to get into the city to the apartment that I shared with my brother. The public transportation that I used from JFK was the A train. This is one of the train lines that went right under the WTC complex so it was not running. Cabs were nowhere to be seen. A kind customer from my flight had a private driver and car meeting her. She graciously let me ride into the city with her instructing her driver to take me anywhere I wanted to go after he dropped her off.
Manhattan was a ghost town. It was so incredibly eery. I also can confirm that there was a hazy dust / smoke in the air everywhere. So much so that it made the sun in the sky look light gray and choked the throat. After making sure that my brother was ok, I knew I had to get out of there. Buses were not running yet and I couldn’t find a cab anywhere. With my flight attendant luggage in tow I finally flagged down an infrequent passing car and it turned out to be two random guys from New Jersey who had gotten stuck on the island after they had closed all the tunnels and bridges off the island. Now they had stayed and were just helping people get around as they could. I had learned that Amtrak was up and running so they graciously took me to Penn Station and that night I caught the first Accela Express train I could get home to Washington DC.
I grew up next to a hospital that had a massive incinerator. From time to time when the wind was just right the ash and dust from this stack would be blown to the ground. This is where all the medical waste from the hospital would be disposed of. Not to be too graphic here, but they don’t bury the body parts that are amputated or pieces removed during surgery etc. so I grew up knowing the ashy burnt smell of that. Whatever it was that was in the air of Manhattan was in the family of and reminded me of that smell. I wanted out of there and to be home in Virgina as soon as possible.
In posting here today, I do not ask for you to give up on whatever you believe about what happened on 9/11. I just ask that you be willing to suspend judgment when looking at the facts as those with the experience and educational background to support their findings can share.
If what we were told by the media and our government did not happen why would they tell us this? What and how should be the first questions to address before the who and why. If you think back to the coverage of 9/11 within MINUTES the American people were being asked to focus on and look at the who and why and that has never ended in the popular media. This focus then later provided the perfect platform for instilling fear…leading to loss of civil liberties, shoes off at airports and all the other crazy things in the years that followed.
As a person who works in the airline industry I can tell you that after 9/11 my life totally changed, both personally and professionally. Maybe I’ll share some more of those stories another time. However, at this time, I just appreciate you going along with me on this little trip down memory lane with this slightly political and controversial post.
For my part, on each 9/11 for most of the past 10 years I have chosen to work a flight from JFK to LAX and back to JFK each year. I do this in tribute to my fellow flight attendants who disappeared from having a future here on earth, giving their lives on the same route that day. I do it so that whoever is responsible that day will know that they did not plant fear into my heart and life.
As some airline employee inside information to share, what many people in the public do not know is that at Newark (EWR) and Boston Logan (BOS) airports there are American flags that fly 24/7 lit on the tops of the jet bridges at each of the gates that the planes that were destroyed left from that day. Each time I fly into those airports ,when I see those flags, I am so grateful that I will never let the promotion of fear or the perception of illusion change the trajectory of my life. No matter what happened, how it happened, who did it or why, I will live my life with as much peace and joy as I can making the world a better place whenever I fly.
I wish you joy on your journeys of discovery this day and those to come. In the end, it is always the truth as we are ready to know it that has the power to set us free.