9/11 Remembered

Following is an excerpt of an article I wrote not long after 9/11.

Tuesday Sept. 11, 2001

The events that led me to Sept. 11, 2001 began late in the summer of 2001. As the new communications director of an association in Denver CO, I began planning a media tour to inform reporters about the activities of the association and provide them with opportunities to produce stories. Various dates and itinerary scenarios were discussed, and the week of Sept 10 was finally selected for the tour.

Much planning then ensued with the final itinerary including stops in Denver, Portland and Idaho. Five media reps were invited to the event, and they all arrived in Denver Sun., Sept. 9. We spent Monday Sept 10 at the association office, and then I dropped the group off at their hotel fairly early, as we had a 7:45 am departure time the next day.

A notoriously non-morning person, that evening I set two alarm clocks for around 4:30 am the next morning. When I left to pick up the group on Tues., Sept. 11, at 5:30 am, the stars were still shining in the black pre-dawn sky. Our group was quiet en route to the airport, but there was some discussion about our agenda for the day in Portland – our first stop. What followed during the next half hour or so were the usual pre-departure routines. We dropped off our rental van and boarded a shuttle bus for the airport. We debated the merits of curbside check in. Our group then split up and decided to meet at our departure gate.

Around 7:00 am, I passed by a concourse restaurant, where a small group of people were standing in front of a TV screen. I wondered what was capturing their attention at this hour of the morning and slowed my pace a bit. It looked a like a large building of some sort on the screen. I wanted to stop and get a closer look, but decided there wasn’t enough time. I got to the gate and boarded the plane, where I was seated next to one of the reporters in our group. A long-time nervous flier, I looked around and noted the plane wasn’t very crowded, which eased some of the usual flight boarding jitters. In fact, I hadn’t felt so calm on an airplane in quite some time.

The reporter next to me told me that she had spoken with her husband just before boarding the plane, and he had told her there had been a bombing or explosion at theWorldTradeCenterinNew York City. I don’t remember now if she mentioned a plane or a bomb. I thought perhaps it was something similar to what happened at the center in the 1990s. Our plane’s pilot then made his pre-flight announcement, informing us it was a beautiful day inPortland, that we should be departing soon, and that he would get us there safely and on time.

Just a few minutes later, around 7:25 am, the pilot announced there was a ground hold on all flights departingDenver. There was some further talk among passengers about bombs at the World Trade Center. The pilot then announced five minutes later that we were to depart the plane and take all our belongings with us. As we left the plane, many people pulled out their cell phones or headed to a pay phone. I did the same and called my office to learn that two planes had crashed into theWorldTradeCenter. One of the reporters with me asked the gate agent about our flight, and the agent broke into tears at the possibility that a co-worker was one of the planes that had crashed.

Some of us made our way to a TV screen at a concourse restaurant, where a large crowd had gathered to watch the burning twin towers, ominous black smoke billowing out of the buildings. We watched in stunned silence. It then appeared that some people were jumping out of the tower windows. It really was hard to comprehend. One man was plummeting head first toward the ground, one leg bent, as if trying to make a graceful exit. There were several murmurs throughout the crowd. One person near me exclaimed that she knew people who worked in the towers. Then one of the trade centers collapsed, which was met with gasps by the crowd. It was hard for my brain to register what I was seeing.

Loudspeakers in the airport then began announcing that the airport was being evacuated, and that we should claim our bags before departing. What then ensued was a long and, for the most part, calm and orderly evacuation process. Once we got to the baggage claim area, long lines of people formed at pay phones. Cell phones worked intermittently. Batteries went dead.

We spent the next five hours waiting for our luggage. We talked with our work colleagues and family and heard bits and pieces about what had happened – that many people in New York City were likely dead, and that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. It didn’t seem real. Real was waiting for our luggage. Real was trying to figure out a way to salvage the rest of our trip, having no idea at the time that air travel throughout the U.S. would be cancelled for days.

Finally around 1 pm, we claimed our luggage and began wheeling it toward the door. We passed the usually lively security check point, empty now except for a few somber looking security guards. We were stopped by the guards, who inquired about our destination.

We walked outside into a warm, calm fall day. After hours in the rather dimly lit baggage claim area, the sun seemed unusually bright. Earlier that morning, we were among thousands or airlines passengers that boarded thousands of flights to thousands of destinations. More than 200 people never made it to their destinations, never walked into the bright sunlight to retrieve their car, get in a taxi or be met by family or friends. Thousands of others in theWorldTradeCenterand Pentagon never left their building that day and never would.

Later it occurred to me that just I was spending many hours planning a trip for the week of Sept 10, carefully considering locations, flight schedules and other details, the hijackers were doing the same, only for vastly different reasons. My objective was to enlighten and inform. While their deadly and misguided objective was death and destruction.

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