09 September 2006
My hubby's 9/11 Story
As we approach the anniversary of the WTC attacks on September 11, 2001 I find myself, quite frankly, forgetting about how this day impacted my life, the lives of my family and how life's circumstance can turn on a dime. In America, this is especially true because most of us live our daily lives oblivious to the daily challenges most everyone in the world faces each and every day.

There are many stories to tell that are for more tragic and inspirational, but I think the fact that I have lost sight of the fact that life can and will change on the turn of a dime is a very important message to convey to the "everyday American."

Life is short....make sure your priorities are in order for tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Background - Pre 9/11/01
I had spent the vast majority of my "professional" career working in the technology consulting and systems integration business stepping all over the "weak" to climb the corporate ladder, traveling like a mad man to client sites and trying to make my way from staff consultant, to senior consultant to principal consultant. This is no life for the weary, 40 hour work week expectations or anyone who is afraid of flying. This is very ironic because even to this day (ask my wife) I get sweaty palms during take off and landing and really don't like to fly. One bonus of all the travel though.... before kids and 9/11 life was good since Theresa and I traveled all over the world on the company nickel and frequent flier miles having a great time.

I was used to traveling each week from city to city, client to client - so much that every plane, rental car and hotel room seemed like a blur. I once spent three months in Puerto Rico, stayed at a hotel on the beach and never touched the sand until the last week of the project. All of this in a culture that arrives exactly at 8:00am and leaves promptly at 5:00pm regardless of the circumstance. Sometimes life is cruel when your priorities are mixed up.

I worked for a CRM Software provider at the time and had been traveling to Boston for several months converting a client from a IBM mainframe platform over to Solaris. For non technical folks that like trying to teach a foreign language to a 2 year old. So I am basically going through the robot motions of packing my clothes (which I can do in a flash), waking up before the crack of dawn, driving for the airport, parking the car, checking in at the electronic kiosk, going through security, retrieving one large cup of coffee, saying hello to the same guy I saw last week on the flight, saying hello to the flight attendant I saw last week, wondering what all of these people in the airport are thinking at this very moment, boarding the plane for the same aisle seat I had last week...or was that the week before or the week before that? Where did I park again - guess I'll pay that cab driver again to drive me around and find my car in Terminal A or was that Terminal B.....oh yeah it's Terminal C - no wait I think it's A.....okay Mr. Taxi driver take me home and my wife will bring me back tomorrow to find my car. Do you see a pattern here? Hey I'm not complaining...Marriott sent me Christmas presents every year.

Morning of 9/11/01

So I boarded the plane for Boston on Tuesday, Sept 11, 2001 for a 6:25am departure. In the consulting business you have to charge at least 40 hours per week on top of your travel time. When you live in Dallas and work in Boston this can present quite a challenge resulting in 6:25am flights to Boston. Now I've made this flight 40 times or more over the years so I can pretty much repeat the "welcome aboard" verbiage the flight attends throw out before take off. In fact we had been to Boston so many times that Theresa asked "can we please go somewhere else for a change...I'm kind of tired of going to Boston" I also know it's about a three and a half to four hour flight based upon the jet stream. Normally we would start the descent just outside NYC for a smooth landing at Boston Logan. So we go through the drill...park the car, go through security, get on the plane, sweaty palms on take off, read the American Way for the 100th time that month, drink some orange juice, pull out the laptop, work more than I want to, put the laptop away, wait for the fight attendant to announce the descent, look out the window at Boston for the 40th time, sweaty palms again on landing (which is scary at Boston because you're coming over water to the runway), praise god for another safe landing, exit the plane, get the rental car, go through the tunnel to Boston, park the car for an outrageous fee, go into the client site, deal with problems and people all day, leave the office really late on Monday, check into the hotel (say hello to the same doorman and front desk clerk), get my room key, ask myself "which room was that again?" as I get in the elevator, plop down my bags in the room, change clothes, head to dinner with the same co-workers (yet again), come back to the hotel, check email once again, turn on the tv and see what blew up in the world today.....and finally go to bed around midnight...get up at 6am (EST no doubt) and do it all over again.

But there was one problem on this day.............something was different and I knew it without anyone saying a word. In fact, there were very few words during the last 60 minutes of this flight. If you've ever flown much then you know if the flight attendants start acting weird then you know something is seriously wrong. So I noticde the plane start to veer to the East and it felt like we were starting to make our descent. I said to myself "man, that's weird because we're a little early to be making a descent for Logan." But okay, maybe this pilot was the one trooper that could actually defy the laws of American Airlines never being early for arrival. I notice the flight attendants are on their phones in the galley - the places where they normally ask each other for more coke or other service related items. But this time there was something very different going on as they were on the phone for what seemed like an extended amount of time. Then something that every traveler never wants to hear came across the PA system. The captain comes on and said "I need all flight attendants to take their seats." Now that may not sound all that strange, but normally that statement is followed by something like "folks I apologize for the bumpy ride, but air traffic control tells me this will continue for about the next 15 minutes or so. But this time there was just the simple statement asking the flight attendants to take their seats. To make things even stranger the flight attendants took their seats very quickly and didn't say one work to any of the passengers, which is even stranger because flight attendants love to talk.

On this particular trip I was sitting in first class and me and the guy across the aisle look at each other with the look of "what in the world is going on?" We both knew something was not right. Have you ever been in a situation where you thought you were about to have something really bad happen to you and there's absolutely nothing you could not about it? That's the way I felt and all I could think was….."there's something wrong with this plane and the pilot is trying to figure out how to fix the problem or find an unpopulated place to ditch the plane." You see we were flying for what seemed like an eternity over nothing but green pastures. It turns out later that the nothing would be Pennsylvania .

Another 15 minutes goes by and not one work from the captain nor the flight attendants. So the guy across the aisle picks up the air phone to call his office. For the first time we all find out that a jet just hit the WTC and there are several other jets in the air that have been hijacked. My first thought was…."thank god we're not going to crash because this would really suck to go out this way." My second thought was "Could this jet be hijacked?"

Shortly after we got over the shock of the WTC and hijacked jets the flight attendants get up and quickly, I mean quickly, put everything away and prepared the cabin for landing. As the first class attendant walks by she said "There's a United plane flying erratically behind us and we have to get out of the air immediately".

As it turns out the plane directly behind us was United Flight 93. Listen to the audio of the exchange with Cleveland Air Traffic Control or read the transcript. If you click here http://www.thememoryhole.org/911/flight93-air-traffic.htm you can read the entire written transcript. Or if you click on this link http://www.airdisaster.com/download2/ua93.shtml you can hear the audio version. My flight was AA 1060 - the one that confirmed the puff of smoke from the crash of United 93 in Shanksville, PA.

We eventually landed a fully loaded 757 in Akron, OH where the runway was about 100 feet long. The descent was a little different as well....let's just say I know what it feels like to be in a fighter jet now. I've never had to literally hold onto my seat during descent and landing. We touched down on all three wheels nearly at the same time, slammed on the breaks, made a sharp left turn while still rolling pretty fast and parked behind a sea of regional jets. The weirdest thing about the flight was that the captain never ever said one word to the passengers on the PA. We stopped and the flight attendant opened the door to let some light and fresh air into the cabin and we all just sat there dumbfounded thinking...okay did that just really happen and what do we do next? I've never had a panic attack in my life, but I started to sweat and felt like screaming "let me off of this plane". I was also the first volunteer to say "I'll" be the first one to leave the plane if you don't object." So I then got the chance to call Theresa and there was a big ball of tears on the other line - talk about a surreal feeling. The only saving grace is that Theresa's family is from the Akron area so at least I had a place to go when we landed. Theresa's mom picked me up from the airport and took me to her home where we watched the news in shock. Everyone else was escorted to the curb and told "good luck there are no rental cars."

I found out later that Theresa and her co-workers had been following my flight using Flight Tracker and they captured a screen shot of my plane deviating from its flight path. Thank god she remembered something from me about cool websites :-)

How quickly we forget how fragile and valuable life is and how quickly your circumstance can change in flash of an instance. Life is short........make sure your priorities are in order for tomorrow is not guaranteed.

  posted at 9:22 PM  

At 8:28 AM, Blogger Tammy said...

This was incredible! I sat here this morning rivited!
Thank you for sharing your first-hand story! God will certianly with you!

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Blessed Beyond Measure said...

wow! Seeing Flight 93 in the air, seeing the smoke. It had to be terrifying and bigger than life to be on that plane that morning. Good we retell these stories to remember them later for our children.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Addie said...

Wow! Thanks John for sharing this on T's blog! I had heard this story from her a couple of months ago, but was still riveted when I read it again. And then with your account, it's just an amazing story!!!

At 5:15 PM, Blogger Barb said...

You handled it a lot better than I would have. I could feel the tension on that flight as I read this. I wonder if the captain never said anything because there was nothing he COULD say that wouldn't cause panic. It gave me a chill reading your account.

You're so right - we need to get our priorities in order - no guarantees that we'll have tomorrow to do it.

At 7:05 PM, Blogger BooMama said...

John - thanks so much for sharing your story. I'm going to save your post and T.'s post for our little man when he gets old enough to understand what happened...it had to have been incredibly surreal for you.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger GiBee said...

John, thank you for sharing your incredible experience!


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Name: Theresa

Location: The great state of Texas

I'm a Christ follower, wife, mama, daughter and sister. I am married to my best friend and we have two precious girls ages 6 and 4. We are happily living in Texas. I love sewing, photography, new running shoes, iced tea and never turn down Tex-Mex. I love spending time with my family, traveling, football season and most importantly, I love to laugh.

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