By Greg Bezy, McKinney
September 24, 2001
Here it is just under two weeks after the worst tragedy on U.S. soil in history. Now our country is currently fighting terrorists in multiple countries. It will be a long battle to find and eliminate terrorist elements throughout the World. Many lives will be lost, but it is a battle that is not an option but an obligation for our country to protect its people.
I along with most citizens of this great country thought that we were almost invulnerable to such an attack. Call it ignorance, call it wishful thinking, call it what you will, but I along with many others truly believed that this day couldn’t and wouldn’t ever come. We were wrong.
I sit here in the U.S. as a young employee in the Aviation industry and look to my future. A future that I not too long ago thought held great things for me, but now I see it beginning to slowly slip away. This won’t be for good, but the time frame has definitely changed. Now all I see is in excess of 100,000 employees throughout the major airlines being laid off (probably more to come). Major airlines are cutting flights and employees by 30+%. Major aircraft manufacturers are losing sales in the multi-millions of dollars. American citizens are afraid to fly. There is a call from the FAA for thousands of Air Marshall’s to protect our passengers and crews and this is only one industry hard hit by these tragic events. There will be few that are not affected.
It won’t be forever; it may not be for long. The sad part is it isn’t because of a fallen American economy, but because of terrorism.
As a pilot I thought I would be the last person to ever hesitate to fly. On September 11, 2001 that all changed. That morning I was the copilot of a Learjet 35, a 9 passenger commercial charter jet, flying between San Diego and San Francisco. Shortly before 7:00AM PDT the airwaves quickly became saturated with air traffic controllers giving aircraft new headings and destinations. We didn’t know it at the time but they were attempting to do something unprecedented, to clear the airspace above the U.S. for the first time in history. After about 10 minutes of constant air traffic our flight was contacted. We would no longer be going to our destination of San Francisco we were now instructed to head direct to Van Nuys, CA. Van Nuys airport was just to the north of where we were currently flying above Los Angeles. I read back the instructions to the controller and without missing a beat he was on to the next aircraft. At this point we had no idea what was going on but we knew from the tone on the controller’s voice it was serious and they didn’t have time to explain. We were only about 15 minutes out from Van Nuys so I informed our passengers over the intercom that would be landing in Van Nuys briefly and would get them on to their destination as soon as possible. We then picked up a communication on another frequency about the possibility of multiple hijackings into buildings in New York City. I looked around outside through the cockpit window at the busy airspace over Los Angeles. I saw other aircraft flying around us and for the first time thought not of the beauty and gracefulness of these aircraft, but because I was afraid. I wasn’t afraid for myself, but I was afraid for those innocent people on board the other aircraft that could also have hijackers in control. After landing in Van Nuys, one passenger, who had no idea what was going on was quite upset with me that they were being delayed. He explained to me they had an important meeting to be at in San Francisco that morning and this delay was not acceptable. He then let it be known they would no longer be using our flight company in the future. I apologized for the inconvenience and informed him it was out of our control and told him it would make more sense when he went inside the terminal and saw the news. My words didn’t seem to change his opinion and at this point with what little information I had it wasn’t making complete sense yet to me either. After securing the aircraft on the ramp I went inside only to be greeted at the terminal door by the passenger who had just complained to me a few minutes earlier. With tears running down his face, he was quick to give an apology. He had just seen the second tower, the North Tower fall.
Three days after these tragic events I along with many other American citizens climbed aboard Commercial airliners as a passenger. Some probably out of what they thought was necessity, but many like me because we weren’t going to allow terrorists to dictate how we lived our lives. As a pilot I knew the risks, probably better than most. That morning national television broadcasts said that terrorist cells were still believed to be roaming the continental U.S. in numbers. I was going home to New York for 10 days for my cousin’s wedding. He is a fulltime firefighter in Upstate New York. I was scheduled on the first cross-country flight out of Los Angeles to the east coast since 9/11. The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:45AM on the 14th on a large commercial jet. Very similar to the aircraft the terrorist chose to hijack – large aircraft, full of full for a long cross-country flight. The scene at the airport reminded me of a documentary I once saw on commercial aviation in Israel (Special Forces with their automatic weapons everywhere, 3 security checks just to get onto the airport property and the list goes on). The added security gave many a sense of increased safety, but I knew better. All these new security measures wouldn’t stop what had brought down those 4 aircraft only days before. The changes needed to stop those incidents wouldn’t come overnight.
I waited in line for over 3 hours to get a boarding pass. In that time I was expecting to hear everyone complaining. I didn’t hear one complaint from any passenger; the hundreds of people were almost silent. Most reflecting on what had happened only a few days before, many just thankful to be there with their loved ones or going to see there loved ones. I got halfway to my destination home with a layover in Chicago, only to be told I wouldn’t be getting any further that day. I would have to wait another day to make it home. I was just one of many that day that didn’t make it to their final destination, and hard to believe I again heard no complaints. I’m sure that complaints existed but they were not the numbers you would have expected. Most people were like me and were greatly looking forward to seeing family and friends. Whether it would be today or tomorrow, we all knew that we would have another chance to see them. We were the lucky ones, we could do this another day.
My cousin decided his bachelor party would be cancelled and the guys would instead go to what was now being referred to as “Ground Zero” for a couple days. All of the guys in the wedding were firefighters. Some fulltime, some part time, and some of us volunteer – it has been a family business for generations. Those of us from out of town got fire gear from his department and on Monday morning the 17th we were headed to Ground Zero. We never actually made it to work directly on “The Pile” itself but spent quite a bit of time around it. We were busy helping out at other incidents and calls. So many fire stations with so many missing firemen, you didn’t want to believe the numbers they were almost unreal at the time. I can’t put into words the atmosphere in the city. It was really three days of being overwhelmed with a combination of work and emotion – an organized chaos. If you were there it wouldn’t be considered an oxymoron, it would just make sense. The morning of the 20th came all too quickly, it was time to leave. How could we leave? As a fireman you never leave until the job is done, but we had to go. The ride home was pretty quiet we all wanted to stay. We also knew after what we had all just seen some happiness in the form of a wedding would be a good thing. So many of the people we were working with had gone through so much more and would not be able to leave or get a break. Leaving our FDNY brothers and the city in the shape it was in will bother me for a long time.
Those three days were a reminder of what evil this World has to offer. At the same time I experienced the most giving and caring public outpour that you can imagine. The worst in the few brings out the best in the many. From that evil has come a show of patriotism that I don’t believe this country seen many times before, if ever.
You would think I would be bitter and pessimistic for what has become of the industry I work in and the World we live in, but that could be farther from the truth. I believe the Aviation industry and every industry affected will eventually recover, and they will recover sooner rather than later and better than before. The heart of this Country and the heart of this World are much stronger than I could have ever imagined. From the citizens of New York City (those thought to be the most heartless and cold), to all the citizens of the U.S. both home and abroad, to the many countries throughout the World whom have shown sympathy and compassion for those of us directly and indirectly affected by this tragedy. The few will not ruin this World for the many.
I write this on my flight back to Los Angeles after the wedding. I am currently now officially on furlough from my corporate aviation job because flight operations at the company are down nearly 90%. My other job as a flight instructor is completely shut down. They won’t allow flight instruction operations until a government policy can be set up on background checks for flight students. Again I can’t be upset with this delay either. Not to long ago I taught foreign flight students, many from the Middle East. I couldn’t tell you the last time I was as nervous as when they first displayed the known hijackers on TV. I was just waiting to see one of my old students. I was safe this time but what about tomorrow, next week, next year. I along with many others in the flight instruction field won’t instruct again until a new policy is written to protect our fellow Americans.
As much as my life has been turned upside down by these terrorist attacks, I still consider myself lucky. I consider myself lucky to just be here to have a chance to recover and rebuild. My thoughts are now with the many people that truly need our support.
- The families and friends of those killed and injured during these tragic events, both physically and emotionally.
- The American public as a whole who are beginning a slow recovery for which time is the only healer.
- The U.S. military along with our allies, whom have a great war to fight against terrorism. This war won’t end overnight and will unfortunately bring the loss of more American lives.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free” Ronald Reagan – 40th President of The Unites States of America.