An Aviation Industry Meeting on 9/11

I clearly remember that day. It still invokes strong emotions in me.

I had been with the FAA about three years, as an aviation safety engineer based at Headquarters on Independence Ave. That morning, I was at RTCA Headquarters downtown for a Future Flight Data Recorder team meeting. In the meeting were FAA, NTSB, TSB Canada, Airbus, Boeing, and airline reps. These were the days when pagers were still prevalent and flip phones were standard.

I remember just before the meeting was to start, Tommy McFall, Director of Safety at American Airlines, had gotten a call. He announced that one of their planes had been hijacked and he had to leave. Then pagers started going off all over the room. We sat there for a while trying to figure out what to do. Then the messages started coming in about New York and the Pentagon.

Then all kinds of crazy stuff, like a bomb went off in Foggy Bottom, were being read off the pagers. We decided to reschedule the meeting. The TSB Canada folks ended going home with the NTSB folks, as they obviously couldn’t get flights. They ended up renting cars and driving back to Ottawa. I tried to call my wife but the cell circuits were jammed. The RTCA phone in their lobby didn’t make long distance calls, which apparently included Maryland.

There were reports that the entire Metro was shut down. A colleague and I decided to try and walk back to the FAA building. It was eerie outside.

Very quiet. Everyone looking to the skies. We found out the yellow line was running north of the Pentagon, so we headed back on the train. At L’Enfant Plaza, we emerged to what seemed like chaos. Traffic was gridlocked. There was barely enough room to walk between the cars to cross the street. The FAA building guards weren’t going to let us in the building. I told them my keys were at my desk and my motorcycle was in the garage. He let me in.

Surprisingly, many people in my group were still in the office. We watched TV in the conference room and saw the towers fall. Everyone was in a stunned state. I finally decided to leave. I had to get a guard to open the garage door as everything was locked down.

I was shocked to see the city was now pretty much devoid of people and traffic. I could have run naked down Independence Ave and no one would have seen me (lucky for them). I didn’t see any traffic until I got near the Douglas Bridge on South Capitol Street. On the ride down the Suitland Parkway, the few cars were driving sedately, and the drivers looked almost robotic. No one really knew what happened or what was going to happen.

I had friends that had worked in World Trade 6. I finally got in contact with them in the next week and, thankfully, they had all previously moved to uptown offices. I had visited their office when I worked for the Navy.

I remember that the TSA was then quickly formed and were a part of DOT, with offices on the 10th floor of the FAA building, before eventually being moved over into newly formed DHS.

Obviously, everything changed that day.

As with most, I will never forget that day. Our first of four kids was born in 2003. They don’t really understand. I try to help them see it from my story and perspective.

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