A Day of Infamy
The words, A Day of Infamy, shot out from the front page of the Globe and Mail depicting the horrific events of September 11/2001. Coined by the media as “the Attack on America,” it will be a black day in history where people will remember where they were and how it affected them.
Halfway over the Atlantic Ocean, while flying from Frankfurt to Toronto, we began hearing escalating chatter over the air to air frequency of 123.45 MHz. (A frequency pilots use when flying over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to communicate amongst other airplanes). Two days before, the topic of conversation was rather mundane pertaining to the turbulence encountered over the mid-Atlantic heading eastbound, and as usual it was mostly dominated by American pilots. However, that day of September 11th, the topic of conversation was surreal. Could I believe what I was hearing, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center and possibly another fifteen minutes later? More and more conversations verified this as Datalinks from their respective dispatchers began pouring into the flight decks. We listened to George Bush’s short speech on BBC via HF (High Frequency) radio acknowledging the attack as an act of terrorists. Ironically, the night of my layover, I was watching CNN at 3.00 a.m. Frankfurt time because of ‘overseas insomnia,’ that ran a documentary on the terroristic life of Usama bin Laden.
Nearing landfall we learned that American airspace was closed. We too datalinked a message to our dispatch asking to confirm that the events that happened were true as it still didn’t seem to be sinking in. It was verified followed by instructions to avoid American airspace and to lock the flight deck door. The ‘in charge’ was briefed followed by the flight attendants and it was decided not to tell the passengers as mayhem could have broke out. As westbound flights were identified by Gander radar they were told they had to land in eastern Canada. One could see airplanes making sharp turns to places like Saint John’s, Stephenville, Gander and Halifax.
While enroute the captain decided to move the fire axe closer to make it readily accessible. I’m not sure if he meant to use it or to hide it from a potential intruder. He asked me if I could or would use it if need be. I said probably not although one never knows what one would do when backed into a corner.
Our flight was allowed to continue though re-routing was required. While over the Maritimes we found out Toronto and Ottawa airports were closed. We were to land in Montreal (Dorval) although that wavered between Montreal (Mirabel), Quebec City and Bagotville. Well into the descent, the captain made an announcement to the effect we were landing in Montreal because the Toronto airport was closed giving no details as to why. It’s a known fact passengers want to hear the truth when faced with delays, diversions or cancellations although we kept it short.
Over eastern Canada the airways were surprisingly quiet. We found out that Air Canada had shut down operations completely, which until now, only a past strike had accomplished. On descent into Montreal it was ghostly quiet with only a KLM flight sharing the frequency.
During taxi another very short announcement was made to let people know customer agents would be meeting them to answer all their questions. Rumours and wild stories flew as the doors opened and ground crew rehashed the day’s events. Flight attendants were visibly upset and tension was high amongst the passengers when in the terminal. Flight operations found us a truck stop type hotel some forty minutes from Montreal and we considered ourselves lucky as stranded passengers inundated hotels. (A day later one pilot hitched a ride back to Toronto with a trucker). Some forty-five airplanes landed in Halifax with the airport authority closing one runway to accommodate them all. In Gander, there were more people at the airport than what lived in the town itself.
While watching television in the hotel room, graphic pictures of the World Trade Center crashing to the ground confirmed the atrocities of that day. Memories of the many layovers at the Marriott hotel based at the foot of the towers came back and how I worked out in the hotel gym overlooking the Statue of Liberty. What was she thinking that day seeing the foundation of peace and liberty crumble before her eyes?
This horrific day has made many realize that terrorism is upon us. It has made pilots realize they can become human missiles; something until now was unthinkable when flying amongst the very safe airspace of North America. As George Bush phrased it a day later, “yesterday has changed tomorrow.” It was a sad day for human kind and a sad day for aviation. This Day of Infamy will never be forgotten.
Yes, a sad day indeed, RIP to the people that died.
I can remember that day like it was yesterday. My dad took me to the airport to see all the planes that landed there. I remember seeing a American airlines pilot crying along with a lot of flight attendants, passengers with dis-belief on there faces when they seen the screen.
Daniel like you said, it was certainly a "day of disbelief!"
Daniel. I'll leave it at that...
A day of infamy, a day of profound sadness, a day which changed the world forever. A day which also brought unsung heros, a day courage ruled first and foremost, without hesitation, a day that brought to our doorstep the horrors of radical religion, no matter the faith, and a day which divided our blue planet for a long time.
I can't remember the day that well as I was just turning 6 years old. I certainly didn't understand how serious it was, and how it affected so many people, and the whole world.
. Almost 2500 lost their lives in Pearl Harbor, almost 3000 in 9/11, September 11 is a part of out history.
May they all Rest In Peace.
Shahrukh. Well said. Very well said! Thank you. Captain Doug
Edwin. The world is still reverberating from 9/11.
Thanks for the comments.
Thanks Anon. Interesting stuff. I always said...they knew more about 9/11 prior to...than they will let on. Doug
Hi Captain Doug,
I read your blog on occasion. This part of your recent post about 9/11 grabbed my interest:
"While enroute the captain decided to move the fire axe closer to make it readily accessible. I’m not sure if he meant to use it or to hide it from a potential intruder. He asked me if I could or would use it if need be. I said probably not although one never knows what one would do when backed into a corner."
I was wondering if you still feel the same way today, that is, that you'd probably not be inclined to use the crash axe if necessary.
Jeff. I feel the same way about the crash axe today than I did nine years ago.
Captain, I would argue that you might want to rethink that stance.
It strikes me that proper answer to your captain's query should be; "Yes sir. Count on it".
I'm convinced a flight deck officer owes a duty to his passengers, his fellow crew members, and to others on the ground to do everything humanly possible to prevent unauthorized persons from commandeering his aircraft. That includes decorating a potential hijacker's carcass with a crash axe if necessary.
Just my thoughts.
Jeff. A police officer (a close relative) once told me, "you better know how to use the weapon, or else it will quickly be used against you!"
After 9/11, there are a ton of "cheques and balances" in place. I just hope they are sufficient to keep me, my passengers, my crew and everyone safe.
Your police officer relative is spot on. All the more reason that, if I had my way, such weapons training would be part of the curriculum for aviators these days.
While I suspect we'll never agree as to whether to use the crash axe as a weapon, I certainly share your hope that the "cheques and balances" keep everyone safe.
Thanks for your time, and fly safely,
Yes, many airlines in the States teach martial arts to flight attendants and I'm unsure on the status of the gun program allowing pilots to carry guns in the States.
Yes, let's hope there are ample cheques and balances to keep everyone safe.
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