"Huh. Wow. What kind of airplane?"
As far as I remember, that's more or less the first thing I said ten years ago on learning that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. Yeah, cringe, but I was trying to distinguish between incidents like this and something that would do more damage. Some context: I had driven to work listening to a CD (or maybe a cassette tape: it was an old car) because the radio reception along my commute was poor, and it wasn't a time of day when I could expect good programming. I had arrived, grabbed the aircraft documents, inspected the airplane, ensured it had been fuelled and come back to the airside office to drop off my preflight paperwork. It was a small shared office, so I had to squeeze between my coworkers and a television set to get to the filing cabinet where I needed to drop my operational flight plan and weight and balance documents. They were staring at the TV, but then it was a media-related company so they were always staring at the TV. On my way back outside to start the airplane, someone said, "An airplane just hit the World Trade Center." The TV wasn't at an angle that I could see it. In answer to my question, he told me it was a Learjet. I didn't even know which world trade centre it was. I assumed it was in the US, but I guessed Chicago, because the old airport was right by downtown. I ran up my airplane engine wondering if the crash was a control problem or pilot incapacitation or what.
I know someone who was woken up by a call from his friend that morning and ordered to turn on the TV. After seeing the burning buildings his response was even more cringeworthy than mine. "I think I've seen this movie."
My non-pilot coworker--yeah, I've always had jobs like this--jumped in the plane and tucked Walkman (look it up, kids) headphones under his aviation ones, as usual. I told you it was a media-heavy company. He was less conversational than usual, but I assumed this had to do with low caffeine intake, not realizing what he was hearing on the radio. Half an hour or so into the flight he said something was on fire.
"Where?" I asked, looking out the window for smoke or the flashing lights of firetrucks.
"The Pentagon is on fire," he repeated.
The pentagon? What pentagon? I sifted though associations with the word, my strongest image being something from witchcraft, imprisoning demons in a chalked pentagram ringed with candles. That made no sense. Then I thought of another possibility. "You mean bombs and missiles Pentagon?" I asked. He shushed me, so I tuned the ADF to a local news station, just in time to hear a synopsis of the morning's terrorism, and that US airspace had been closed.
Before I had a chance to call flight services to find out if this would affect me, the air traffic controller whose frequency I was on instructed me to land. I landed back at our base, not a major airport, and as I was on short final an ultralight took off, the pilot and the controller who cleared him still oblivious to the day's events.
This is probably the third time I've told the story on the blog and I imagine I've told it dozens of time in real life. Every generation has to have its "where were you?" moment. Ask an old American where they were when they heard Kennedy had been shot. (Yeah if you remember Kennedy, you're officially old. You're welcome). I hope the next such "everyone remembers where they were" event is a good one. There have been good ones, like humans landing on the moon. What amazing good thing could happen today that would be tweeted around the world and that would compel people to tell the story of where they were when it happened, even ten years later? What some people might consider good could be controversial, so please don't mock or condemn any commenter for their choice of an earthshaking positive moment. Is there anything? Or are we too jaded and too divided now to all be awed by an event?