As everyone is enjoying their long Labor Day weekend, people should remember the fact that next Sunday will be 15 years since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
It’s hard to believe, but many school-age children weren’t alive or have no recollection of that terrible day.
They know very little about the militants associated with the Islamic extremist group, al-Qaeda, that hijacked four airliners and carried out the horrific suicide attacks.
They have only probably seen photos of the two planes flying into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and a third plane hitting the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C.
They might have heard stories about the brave passengers on the fourth plane who fought the militants that hijacked their airplane, which tragically crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
About 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11, 2001, including more than 400 police officers and firefighters.
Sept. 11 is a day that should never be forgotten.
Not in Washington, D.C., not in New York City, and not in Augusta, Ga.
Metro Spirit reporter, Stacey Eidson, remembers where she was on that terrible day.
She was actually covering a subcommittee meeting of the Augusta Aviation Commission at Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field.
Then-airport director Ken Kraemer was arguing with Aviation Commissioner Marcie Wilhelmi about something during the meeting when an airport official hurried into the room.
Kraemer quickly exited the meeting and returned less than two minutes later, announcing, “We’ll have to postpone this meeting.”
When the aviation commissioners asked why, Kraemer said, “There has been some kind of accident in New York. They are suspending all air travel.”
By 9:26 a.m., the FAA had issued a national “ground stop,” preventing all civilian flights from taking off.
People weren’t panicking at the Augusta airport, they were simply confused.
No one understood why all flights were grounded.
Then, everyone started turning to the television and watching the national news reports about what was happening in New York City and at the Pentagon.
Suddenly, reality quickly began to set in.
This tragedy was so much bigger than flights being grounded.
The nation was in crisis.
On that day, the Metro Spirit reached out to its fellow alternative weeklies around the country and began receiving reports from all over the country.
Albie Del Favero, founding publisher of Nashville’s alternative newsweekly, the Nashville Scene, had boarded an American Airlines flight early Tuesday to New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
He was scheduled to attend a company board meeting in a Manhattan office.
Instead, from the air, he witnessed one of history’s more barbaric events.
This is his account, as relayed by phone in Long Island on that terrible day:
“There was nothing unusual about the flight. Everything was normal. We were on our approach. Then the stewardess said, ‘Look, the World Trade Center is on fire. There’s smoke billowing out,’” Del Favero said. “There weren’t many people on the flight, so I move to the left-hand side of the plane and get a window seat. Soon, everyone on the plane is starting to talk about it.”
At first, everyone on the plane was simply fascinated by what was happening, he said.
“Really, it was unbelievable because when you fly into New York on a gorgeous day, it’s just beautiful. And it was a gorgeous day — not a cloud in the sky,” he said. “It was sort of bizarre because the smoke wasn’t moving — it was just hanging in the air, sitting there. And all of a sudden, this explosion just occurs. It was this incredible ball of fire. And that was the second plane. At that point, the guy behind me says, ‘I was supposed to stay there tonight.’ He worked for J.P. Morgan or something, and he was supposed to be spending the night in the World Trade Center.”
The passengers began speculating on what could have caused the fire, Del Favero said.
“Still, at that point, nobody is freaking out. But everyone is saying they think it might have been a bomb,” he said. “It was such an odd thing. Nobody is panicking at all. And in fact, people are still not clued into the fact that this is such a tragedy. They’re still at the level of dealing with this as an interruption, or as a hassle. So, there was the back and forth between it being a tragedy to being a hassle.”
Del Favero’s flight managed to land in New York.
“So the plane lands naturally. Nobody says anything. At that point, nobody really knows anything. But the guy behind me gets on his cell phone and calls and finds out it’s a terrorist attack,” he said. “So, then I called Sara [Del Favero’s wife], because I think she would be worried about me, and she finds out I’m okay. She had heard from CNN that an American Airlines jet had gone down, so she was upset. But as I am getting out of the plane, I still really didn’t know the extent of what had happened. As I’m walking out the airport, I pass by a television in a bar, and they’re showing footage of the Pentagon having been bombed, and by then I’m understanding this is big.”
Even though Del Favero was watching this tragedy unfold in New York, reality hadn’t completely set in yet.
“Still, I’m thinking I’m headed into Manhattan for my board meeting. I was walking out to get a cab to go into the city. But then everyone is told that all the bridges and tunnels into the city are closed,” he said. “And at this point, airport security guys start ushering us out of the airport. And then they just start saying, ‘Go home. No more flights. Go home. No more flights.’ Like we’re supposed to go home. That’s when all these New York-style fights break out with everyone screaming at each other.”
Confusion and chaos began to take over, he said.
“So they usher us outside the airport, and we stand there for like 30 minutes. And we’re sitting there outside LaGuardia looking at the two World Trade towers on fire. And then all of a sudden, we’re looking around, and then somebody goes, ‘They’re gone,’” Del Favero said. “The buildings had collapsed.”
At that point, the airport was concerned about the public’s safety.
“So then, the security guards move us even further out from the airport, out to some access road or interstate. A bunch of us just go stand by this ramp. Then someone says all airports in the country are closed. And all I start thinking is, I want to go home,” he said. “Three of us then caught a cab, and we pooled some money, and we just headed away from Manhattan rather than toward it.”
Del Favero made it to Long Island, but immediately decided to head home.
“I got Sara to rent me a car, and I’m going to try to drive back to my home in Nashville,” he said. “The saddest part about this is that one of my daughters called wanting to know if I was alright. My other daughter is on a school retreat. I hate to think my poor children are old enough to have to understand how tragic this whole thing is. When Oklahoma City happened, they were so young they didn’t grasp it. But now they can understand. That makes me very sad.”
The following account came from Salon.com by reporter Laura Miller:
It began the way all disasters seem to when you’re not in the middle of them, with a minor aggravation.
At 8:45 a.m., my Greenwich Village apartment rumbles as I’m getting dressed; a low flying plane.
“Must be some kind of military exercise,” I grouse, and then pause, realizing that since I moved from San Francisco three years ago I’ve never once had my windows rattled by flyboys.
“This just in: There’s been some kind of explosion in the top floors of the World Trade Center,” said a local news announcer.
I contemplate heading out to the street for a look. You can see both towers perfectly from 6th Avenue and West 12th Street. But I probably wouldn’t even be able to see the smoke.
“We’ve got unconfirmed reports that a plane hit the north tower,” he says a minute later, and I’m out the door.
A big, smoking wound gapes on the side of the north tower.
Clumps of people stand in the street. A guy in a baseball cap tells me he saw the plane. “It was a passenger airliner,” he says. “It was flying really low, and swerving. I didn’t see it hit, but I heard it.”
Tiny shards of fire flicker in the hole.
I rush upstairs to listen for updates. This has to be the worst aviation accident of all time, I think. I’m pouring coffee and I hear something: boom.
It can’t be.
“Another plane just hit the other tower,” a frantic man with an Indian accent tells a radio reporter.
No, that can’t be right. The crash must have set off an explosion in some part of the tower.
“A second plane has hit the south tower,” the radio reporter said.
I’m on the street again by the time I grasp that this is no accident.
Huge billows of smoke cover the tops of both towers. Honking cars covered with gray dust crawl up 6th Avenue through the huge crowds of people staring south.
I go back and forth between the street and my CNN-filled apartment a half dozen times. I’m heading around the corner when I hear people scream.
The south tower is down.
I see the north tower fall on live TV, and by the time I get to the street people are stumbling around on the sidewalk weeping, and a man is shouting that everyone should head to the hospital on the corner.
“They need blood!”
There’s a big empty patch of sky on the horizon where I used to admire the towers tinted pink by the dawn.
More people than I can count, or can even stand to think about, now have even bigger holes in their lives.