Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Kind of Airplane?

"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?


david said...

Here's a positive thing: I know where I was when the Berlin Wall came down. Until then, we'd lived with a kind of low-level (but constant) fear, one that people born later, like my kids, haven't experienced.

Terrorist attacks are horrible thing, but they're not in the same category as global nuclear war: 2001 couldn't undo 1989.

Capt. Schmoe said...

"What kind of Airplane?' My first question to my co-captain, when he rushed into my dorm, telling me a plane had crashed into the WTC.

"How did ATC and the pilot f&^% this up so bad?" was my second question as I watched a close up of the jagged burning hole in the side of the building.

"What the hell is going on?" was my third when the camera angle changed and I could see the weather was extremely VFR.

"Who did this?" was my fourth when I saw the debris rain down after the second plane hit. I already knew what kind of plane that was, I watched it hit.

Funny how we remember.

Thanks for the post.

amulbunny's random thoughts said...

I remember the Berlin Airlift, The Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's assassination, the moon landing when Walter Cronkite cried, the attempts on Reagan's and on Ford's lives, the Challenger blowing up, and 9-11. Yeah, I'm older than dirt.

I didn't turn the TV on that morning, which was odd. I was hurrying the kid to get ready for school. We turned on the pop station we listened to and the DJ said something about the tragedy in NY and DC. Turned to the news station and was stunned. No better word. It was like everyone in every car had this horrible look on their face.

There are so many things in history that I won't forget. And we have to remember to pass them on to our descendants.

nec Timide said...

Some times the best things come out of the worst things. This is just one, of probably thousands, of stories that includes some of the heroic deeds and simple acts kindness by hundreds or thousands in response to horrible acts by a few dozen.

I think we need to remember and celebrate that ratio.

coreydotcom said...

I remember the game which caused Patrick Roy to be traded. I remember him lifting his hands when he made a save and the crowd cheered. I remember the game finishing 9-2 (or some blowout like that), with Detroit obviously on the winning side.

I too hope for a day so joyous that we can all celebrate together and I can tell my kids: "When XYZ Joyous Event happened, I was at ABC Location"

Let us all remember the innocent victims of 9-11. May their souls rest in peace.

But let us also remember other events, which we seem to forget about, seemingly because the victims weren't "white":
- Pakistani floods (about 1500 deaths)
- 2004 Tsunami (estimates from 110k - 250k+ deaths, think about that number for a second)
- Haitian earthquake (46k - 85k deaths from american sources - 200k+ deaths from other sources - NOTHING has been rebuilt in Haiti)
- Katrina (1836 deaths)
- Rwandan genocide (about 800k - 800k deaths - imagine wiping out whole cities like Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Quebec City, Winnipeg)

And as we speak countless people are dying of starvation in East Africa.

Let us remember EVERYONE. If you are fortunate enough to help someone, please do.

If you are fortunate enough to eat tonight, appreciate your meal.

On this very sad day, I encourage people to think of a cause they would like to support and I would also encourage them to get involved with that cause as soon as possible (anything at all, you're not going to change the WHOLE world but you can help someone, or something: i.e. abused animals, AIDS, famine, poverty, beaten women, suicidal people, gosh there are thousands of causes locally and internationally).

Have a great day everyone!

P.S. The verification word for me was "hoppe", which is very similar to "hope". This made me smile, and I have hope for a better future.

Frank Lee MeiDere said...

As with all your stuff, remarkably personal and honest. You have far more of my respect than I'll ever be able to express.

Wayne Farmer said...

Here's a possible "amazing good thing" event: "The White House announced today that, working with the U.S. military and with civilian contractors, they have developed and successfully tested a new form of "cold fusion" reactor that produces electricity from water. Sample quantities are currently available, and full production should be reached in the next few months. The device is inexpensive, small enough to be carried by a pickup truck, and produces no detectable levels of radiation."

We may already be on the road to having such a device: see Wikipedia's article on "polywell".

Airplane party favors said...

I wish I had my personal airplane, but that is too expensive!

jets said...

so what are the acceptable ways of airplane inspection??

jwenting said...

I was in the office, bringing life a new Reuters news feed for our website.
That's how we got the news (no radios or televisions in the office), the first ever message we got mentioned an aircraft crashing into the WTC towers.
At first noone believed it, we thought it was a test message and we'd connected to the wrong feed.
But then we got through to Fox, BBC, and other news sources who all carried it (right before they were all overloaded an their websites basically collapsed under the load).

The Americans in the team were massively worried, everyone wondered what the heck had happened (at least here it was hours before the connection with terrorism was made public).

Mats said...

I remember laying a new roof on a house in Norway when we heard about the first plane hitting one of the towers. After the second plane hit, we couldn't believe what was happening. It still gives me the chills to think about it, and I can´t believe that it has been 10 years, I can remember it as it was yesterday.

Recently we have had our own tragedy in Norway, and July the 22nd will forever be a day we never forget.

Anonymous said...

When I first read about Ingalls in the current book "December 1941" I thought that somehow she might have been related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of The Little House on the Prairie books. After looking her up I found it very interesting to see how many aviation records she established and what a colorful life she led.