September 11, 2001 was a wonderfully still, crisp and clear day. When I arose that morning, I walked outside of my hotel room and peered over the railing to view the Delaware River. The view was so calm and peaceful. A small patchy thin layer of fog was still visible on the water. I exhaled at the peaceful sight and was given such a lovely gift when I saw my breath for the first time since spring. Growing up in the southern United States, one relishes the first cool days of the approaching fall in only a way that a person growing up with extreme heat and humidity can appreciate. Inside my mind, I had a private celebration; then I leaned my roller bag over and began a happy stroll toward the lobby of the hotel. I had to fly on this wonderful day. As I was walking, I thought to myself, “Life is good”.
That day began like any other day. I arrived to the airport on time, had my cup of coffee and checked my paperwork. I was to be evaluated by one of my company’s line check airman. Line check airmen annually check the performance and standardization of airline captains while in the performance of his or her duties. This was to be a routine flight from Philadelphia, PA to Cincinnati, OH returning on a revenue flight after a 40-minute layover in Cincinnati.
My flight departed Philadelphia International Airport (KPHL) at 0800 EDT and arrived in Cincinnati, OH (KCVG) at 0957 EDT. During our trip, we were given no information about the events that had occurred. When we were twenty-five minutes from landing in Cincinnati, we heard our first hint that something was wrong in New York. A Delta Airlines flight had just departed from Cincinnati and was climbing to cruising altitude when Air Traffic Control (ATC) advised the crew that they would need to return to their departure airport or go to their designated alternate airport. No reason was given. The crew told ATC that they needed to talk with dispatch about it and they would get back with him shortly with a decision. ATC then advised the crew to make a decision as soon as possible because they were nearing New York’s airspace and would be turned prior to entry into that airspace. When queried about what was going on in New York, the controller simply stated, “New York is having some difficulty today.” The captain that was evaluating my performance raised an eyebrow, as did I. Together we hypothesized New York must have had a radar outage. In our minds, we figured we’d be stuck in Cincinnati for an additional four hours while the whole mess was straightened up.
We landed in Cincinnati and as we exited the runway we saw a line-up of aircraft. This wasn’t common for Cincinnati and after our check list procedures were complete and we were parked. We inquired about the delays going back to Philly. We were told that all air traffic had been suspended in the United States until 1700 local. We then asked what had happened. We were told, “A plane hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon”. We were absolutely in disbelief. We didn’t believe what we had been told and were looking verify that story when the ramp agent meeting our flight hurriedly made his way to the flight deck and told us, “You need to unload this airplane as quickly as you can, crew included, we’re under an alert and the entire concourse needs to be cleared.” The passengers disembarked with no message from us what had happened because we were still sorting through all of this information. We shut the airplane down as if it were going to be remaining overnight and then evacuated the concourse with the rest of the occupants. I looked at my crew and said, “This could get ugly. We should get a hotel room as soon as possible”. They agreed and we hurriedly walked over to our hotel that we normally spend the night and secured our rooms.
The first voicemail I received was from my best friend and also an airline captain. He called from Newark, NJ to inform me that he was looking across the river and that the “Twin towers” were on fire. My cell phone then began to ring incessantly. I called my girlfriend, mother, ex-wife and other friends to inform them that my crew and I were safe and in Cincinnati. I was getting so many calls I finally changed my message on my cell phone to say “My crew and I are safe and in Cincinnati, OH, please leave a message or call me at the following number?.
We spent the rest of the day surrounding the television in disbelief at the surreal experience. Feeling grief for those affected and lost. This hit us in the airline especially hard. To me, a former fire fighter and now pilot, I was personally affected on two fronts. We sat in front of the television still trying to learn anything new that we could find. Trying to sort out what had happened? Who had done this? Why had they done this? Curious as to what our response would be. Wondering what our special forces were doing and praying for their safety. My crew and I just sat, as America did, stunned and in disbelief.
I ended up spending a few days in Cincinnati and I had not packed a bag nor had I brought my charger for my cell phone. I was only expecting a round trip flight totaling four hours, not four days. In the hotel, I frequently sat alone with my thoughts. In June of 2000, I was divorced. I had surrounded myself with my career and was working as often as possible. I was happy to be a pilot. When my wife and I had split up, I said to myself, “At least I have my career”. Then, with the news reports flowing across the airwaves and the concern that the airlines had about the future, it became clear that I might not even have a career. I thought to myself, “What do I have then?” Then the realization hit me; I had narrowly defined my life. I began to search for a greater truth and found it. I was one of the fortunate ones in this career field to still be employed but my heart goes out to those we lost in the industry that day and to those who lost their jobs.
Friends, I send you my thoughts of peace and happiness. I ask you to define yourselves by the strength of your character and compassion of your actions. Realize that nothing is permanent. Furthermore, realize love and compassion are the greatest gifts of all. Love each other and embrace one another as if today is your last. Help everyone you can and listen to your loved ones each day with a focus like never before. Do this and I promise that each day will provide a warm and loving embrace to the present moment. We so often forget just how precious this moment is. We are often too distracted by the menial tasks at hand that we forget to smell the flowers, feel the wind and love each other. Take the time, give of yourself to your loved ones, your community and your charities. Make a difference and be a loving addition to this world.
My story from the 9/11 digital archive. Reprinted from my original digital archive on file at http://911digitalarchive.org/parser.php?object_id=4332 . This microfiche file on the Internet is hard to read. I wanted to preserve this for myself and share it with you.