Aircraft—-Big Sandy unicom…Mitsubishi…November… 3…5 …3…7…Uniform…six miles to the north…inbound for landing….
Unicom—Winds 250…at 7 knots…no other reported traffic…
The Day the Building Fell
September 11, 2001, was like almost every autumn morning in Kentucky. The air was cool and crisp and another beautiful sunrise welcomed me here at the airport. On my way to work that morning I had heard on the radio about a military drone crashing somewhere. I turned on my TV when I got here for company but wasn’t really paying much attention to it, I was working on a woodworking project I had started, something to keep me busy if today was one of those days when not much happens…. it would make the day pass faster.
Today was not one of those days.
I guess almost everyone who was alive during 9/11 remembers what they were doing when our world changed that morning. As I was walking from the office to the hangar I heard mention on the TV about a plane crash, I paused briefly as I was going through the door but assumed it was the drone crash I had heard about on the radio earlier. Before I got all the way across the hangar my brother, Larry Joe, called, “You got your TV on?”
“Yes I do, why?”
“Man, check out that footage of the World Trade Center, a corporate jet must have hit it, you can see the imprint of the jet in the building. That’s unbelievable!” he said.
I was amazed watching the news. How did that happen? It was a clear day… the building were not obstructed by fog…. that just can’t happen. I couldn’t get enough news, I was switching from channel to channel getting different perspectives and seeing different angles of the hole in the building and the evacuation efforts.
A year earlier Larry Joe had called me from the top of one of the towers. I had never been to New York City and he was describing to me what a magnificent view it was. On his tour of the World Trade Centers he was told of the 50 thousand people who worked in these two building daily and 140 thousand total visitors and employees that passed through per day. I was thinking, ” How are all those people going to get out?”
Then while staring at the hole in the first tower, I thought I saw a plane hit the second tower. My first thought was someone must of had a video of the moment when the plane hit the tower. But, I was seeing the hole, live, how could this be? Just as the announcer was saying, “Apparently a second plane has hit tower number two!” I realized the United States of America was under attack!
Rage! I felt so much rage, I never said a word, never got up. I was strangely calm but my blood pressure must have been sky high. I couldn’t believe that this could happen in our country. Then my thoughts were with those people I knew were trying to get out of those buildings. The thought of the building falling never entered my mind. I thought if they stood during the impact, the fire would have to be contained but I never thought about how burning fuel could bring down a steel and concrete building.
I did have knowledge of the amount of fuel, I have a book here at the airport that tells about all aircraft, where to fuel them, how much they hold and so on. It is hard to believe but a Boeing 747-400 can hold up to 60,000 gallons of jet fuel. Those two jets held about 20,000 gallons each, that’s a lot of burning fuel.
About 20 minutes later I got a call from ATC (air traffic control) in Huntington, WV. The controller told me all airspace in the United States was being closed down- DO NOT let any local aircraft depart your airport, if anyone lands tell them they cannot depart. Medical, police and civilian are all subject to this closing; under strict orders of the FAA do not let anyone depart till further notice.
At the time of the closure there were over 6,000 aircraft in the sky over the USA. ATC started contacting all the aircraft. I assumed all flight plans were going to be completed but I was wrong. As ATC was telling all aircraft to land at the nearest airports they were close to that had fuel. About that time a MU 2 turbo prop plane was 17,000 feet overhead Big Sandy, the pilot radioed me and asked if I have jet fuel at my airport. I said, “Yes, sir, I do.” In a very sarcastic voice he said, “Well I guess I’ll be coming to see you then!”
The pilot flying the plane was an attorney from Indiana, he and three of his attorney friends were on their way to Myrtle Beach on a golf trip. I could tell he was very angry and had no idea as to what was happening, he and no other pilots were told why the airspace was being closed and why they had to land. ATC was contacting all aircraft on flight plans but it’s possible to fly entirely across the United States without talking to air traffic control, if you stay away from controlled airspaces and military restricted areas, you don’t have to talk to anyone. But, almost everyone has to land for fuel after about 4 to 5 hours.
My new attorney ‘friend’ got out of his plane and very angrily asked me why I needed him to stop here at my airport and get fuel (somehow he thought i had something to do with it) I told him that he would understand exactly why after he found out what was going on in the world today. A few minutes later a fire patrol airplane from Mt. Sterling Airport was told to land here, also.
All six of us went upstairs by the TV, we silently watched the building burn and then collapse. When the building fell I felt anger all over again, I felt that the terrorists had won this battle but I knew we were at war with the people who did this. Problem was I didn’t know at the time who had perpetrated this act.
Watching the death and destruction I thought this must have been what it felt like when Pearl Harbor was bombed. This was going to be one of those days that will never be forgotten.
There was good that happened after this tragedy- that was the first time I felt this country came together like I had never felt before. I felt so much compassion for the people of New York and the passengers onboard the other two planes. The people in those towers, their families, the police officers and firemen, what they were going through at this moment. It made me want to call my family just to hear their voices. I needed to hug them, too. I felt everyone wanted to contact their loved ones. This country was united.
We all knew that no one was going to be flying for a few days. I asked my new guests, “Guys, what can I do to help?” I hooked the guys from Indianapolis up with a rental car and called the Jenny Wiley State park and got them rooms. I also told them (since they were going on a golfing trip) about Stonecrest and Paintsville Country Clubs. The pilot from Mt. Sterling Airport called his wife to come and get him.
I remember how quiet it seemed without airplanes flying over each day. If you occasionally saw something up there you knew it was military. They kept civilan aircraft grounded for 5 days. My Indianapolis guests golfed at Stonecrest three days and Paiintsville once. When the airspace was opened back up they flew back home, their golf trip to Myrtle Beach ended up in Eastern Kentucky. They told me they enjoyed their golf and were treated very well on their vacation.
Aviation later played a role in serving justice on the person who planned all of that death and destruction. Two special Blackhawk helicopters and about 20 of our bravest soldiers paid a late night call to Osama bin Laden, delivering justice for our country and for the families of 9/11. Thank God the raid was successful and all our soldiers were safe. God Bless the USA….
Aircraft—Big Sandy unicom…Mitsubsihi…3…5…3…7…Uniform…departing… runway…2…1…Big Sandy…Thank you for your hospitality…last call…
Unicom—Winds…240…at 8 knots…have a safe trip…