Waymon Hudson

Looking Back at 9-11: A Flight Attendant's Story

Filed By Waymon Hudson | May 02, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: 9/11, ground zero, Mosque, September 11

Author's Note: I was asked to repost my first hand recollection of September 11th when the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden broke, so here it is in its original form. I think it's important that we use this moment not to make twitter jokes or do cheerleading routines in front of the White House, but to look back at a solemn moment in history that changed our country in so many ways forever. World Trade Center AttackThis isn't a time to gloat or be flippant, but to look back at everything this cost us in lives, civil liberties, and our national identity. Hopefully we can use this opportunity to begin to heal, step back from the fear-mongering edge we've been on for years, and find some closure as a country. We can and must be better. We must learn from our past so we aren't doomed to repeat the mistakes we made in the aftermath of 9-11.

Many of you may know that I am a former flight attendant. What you may not know is that I was in the air on September 11th, working a flight leaving New York City going to Florida. I worked for an airline that has live TV's in every seat, so we were some of the few people in the air that actually watched the horrors of that day unfold live.

It all started normally enough. The crew of 6 (four flight attendants and two pilots) met for the early morning flight, expecting a short trip to Tampa and back. The plane was full of people, mostly bleary-eyed from having to make it to the airport on time. We did a quiet, low-key service, chatting with the few passengers who were awake, then went to our respective galleys to rummage up some breakfast for ourselves.

Then it happened.

We heard a murmur pass through the cabin and then dozens of attendant "call-buttons" went off. We ran into the cabin to find people crying and asking us what was going on. The crew had no idea (we don't have TV's in our galleys), so we sat with the passengers and watched in horror as the news came in: a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

The news didn't know what was happening- if it was an accident or something more. I got on the phone with our pilots, who knew only a few small facts from chatter on the radio. We set up a communication line, updating our pilots with news from the TV as it came in. No changes were made at first and we continued on the flight plan. We were almost ready to start our descent into Tampa when the entire plane seemed to scream at one time.

A second plane had hit. This was a terrorist attack.

The crew went into crowd control mode as we were told by the pilots that we were being ordered to land immediately. The plane went into a sharp decent into Tampa as we worked to calm passengers while at the same time arming ourselves with whatever we could find as "weapons" in case we had hijackers on board as well- coffee pots, fire extinguishers, anything we could use to defend ourselves and our plane.

We landed safely in Tampa, where police met the plane to help unload panicked passengers. Our little crew of 6 sat on the empty plane, holding hands and watching in shock as reports came in of other planes going down and crashing. We tried to call friends, to find out if our co-workers were okay or on the planes that went down, but couldn't get through the overcrowded lines. As a New York based airline, we all feared the worst.

We were contacted by flight control and told we were going to be grounded in Tampa indefinitely. They rushed us out (again with police) and sent us to a hotel, where we gathered in a room and watched as more horrible news came in- the towers collapsed, thousands were feared dead, rumors flew that more planes had gone down.

We later found out family had been trying to reach us, but cell phones were useless. All we could do was sit in shocked silence and wait for news.

We ended up being grounded in Tampa for over 10 days, after which we flew an empty plane back to New York. We saw the still smoldering ground-zero site as we came in for a landing. We sat in the quiet airport as we received our briefing on what was happening and what the future of our company and jobs were.

In the days that followed, I went into the city, attended vigils for the victims (including my fellow flight attendants). I cried and waved as first responders and firefighters drove by to help in the recovery effort. I looked for the faces of friends in the thousands of missing persons fliers that were posted around the city. I continued to fly nearly empty planes, the whole time fearing that it could happen again.

To me, 9-11 was a horrible, personal experience. It could have easily have been my plane that was used as a weapon. That is why it sadden and disgusts me as I watch politicians use it as a bumper sticker "call to action" or as a reason to chip away at personal religious freedoms and rights. Even more disgusting is seeing it used to attack Muslim Americans, who were also attacked and killed that day, or play into the fears and anger of people personally affected by the attacks in New York City and around the country.

I still get chills when I think about that day and the friends I lost. But this year there is a new and fresh emotion: Anger. From the ridiculous hate-based "controversy" over building the Park 51 Islamic Center in lower Manhattan to elevating the insane ramblings of a fringe pastor in Gainesville, Florida who wants to burn the Koran, it seems that politicians and fear-mongers from all sides are taking what was a dark day for our country and cheapening it for their own gains.

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Thank you for your personal recollection, Waymon. Yes, I agree that it is a time for reflection, rather than gloating. On that day, I had just moved from New York, where I worked at 125 Broad Street, only a few blocks from Ground Zero, where I used to go on my lunch hour. I was working in a law firm in Boston, which was quickly evacuated because of the fact that one of the planes had left from Logan Airport. We, too, watched in horror. To this day, I cannot hear about these events or see video of it without my eyes welling up with tears.

I'm very disturbed by people regurgitating the president's propaganda (whether it be Bush or Obama) that 9/11 "changed things forever." What about the the lives of the millions of people around the world whose lives have been "changed forever" by the US military's aggression and the American people's willingness to believe anything that the US government tells them? This is what is so shocking to people around the world: why do we always act as if we just turned on the TV and discovered there was a world around us?

Rick Sutton | May 2, 2011 8:59 PM

A very compelling story. Thank you. I hope you were able to get through that tough year or so OK.

A whole range of emotions in the last 20-plus hours.

Happy that the news bulletin interrupted that assbag Trump's show.

Confused that we're celebrating a man's death, even though he was a despot....and wildly angry that he used a defenseless woman as a human shield at the very end.

Angry that all this demand for revenge, permeates our society.

Mindful that as it permeates, smaller eyes are watching, gauging how they'll behave when they grow up, and I'm scared of the example we're setting. Because we're always setting boundaries and examples for younger eyes.

Perplexed that folks won't understand why I'm not jumping up and down with glee the way most of America is. And that they'll think I'm "less patriotic" if I don't share their glee.

Mindful that I felt exactly the same when we invaded Iraq for the wrong reasons. And desperately f***ing angry at the human and fiscal cost of that testosterone dream.

It all seems to boil down to anger/revenge. I guess I'm not built the same way as most folks. To me, revenge is a dish best served cold. If at all. It rarely accomplishes anything worthwhile. History is awash with the ill-begotten fruits of vengeful acts.

That doesn't mean you let folks walk all over you. It does mean, that you exact retribution and justice in measured terms, for the right reasons, at the right times.

I understand how presidents and Congresscritters get sucked up into the group-think. I'm just not very proud of the group right now.

Imagine: if we assembled this kind of national hysteria over other real problems: the environment, energy independence, education, the budget....it's mid-boggling.

Anthony Carter | May 2, 2011 9:49 PM


Eric Payne | May 2, 2011 9:53 PM

In the mid-80s, I lived in NY, both working and finishing my college education. Upon graduation, I was employed by Bankers' Trust; I worked in their offices on Wall, as well as in their WTC 2 location (later moved to WTC 7), though I left their employ (and NY) only 2 years later when I impulsively moved to Los Angeles.

In the last 3 years, Bill and I have taken three five-day "Broadway Get-Aways" to NY, the latest in November, 2010. The first time we went, in February of 2009, I was surprised at how quickly the pace of NY came back to me4 - the speed of pedestrians on the street (keep up or get swept away), the ease with which surface traffic is forgotten for the subway, and the absolute hunger a human being can build for a Sabretts and a potato knish.

But what really surprised me was the number of times I caught myself looking southward, looking for something that wasn't there anymore. I could remember the first time I saw the towers, as I left the PATH station and walked to my hotel just off Times Square (hey, I was in my 20s and still stupid), trying to force myself not to act like a tourist and mark myself... but just enthralled by those two buildings to the south. They looked close enough to be in the next block. It was so hard to believe they were miles away.

Washington DC MAY 2 |

I greatly appreciate your personal tale of that bright September morning. As luck would have it, I was in the Pentagon on the far side near the River Entrance in a briefing in the E Ring.

I'll never forget the way that the entire building shuddered when that jetliner hit. The sound that the reverberated throughout was almost as if the Pentagon was moaning.

Alarms rang out, people panicked, and the smell of the smoke, the jet fuel, and other things I'll never forget. It lingered in my mind for days afterwards. A group of us ran out towards the vast parking lots facing nearby Crystal City- then we ran towards the spiraling column of smoke from the side of the building that faced south and as we got round to that side, we were confronted with a horrifying site- a huge gaping hole, flames leaping literal stories high towards the sky, and the walking wounded bleeding and hurt.

The rest of that day passed in a blur and even now I only can remember bits & pieces, fragments of a living nightmare.

Last night, as the White House sent out notifications that a major news event followed by a live presidential statement was pending, coupled with the press sources going on about Osama bin Laden's being eliminated by a strike team, the events of that bright September morning came rushing back to me.

Then, later, wandering through the crowds that gathered around the White House in Lafayette Park, watching the U. S. Flags wildly waved about by enthusiastic spectators, I gave pause and wondered about the meaning of it all.

I especially thought long & hard about it as well today as the facts were revealed, stories were told, and more so the details of the operation were disclosed.

Does it make a difference? He's dead to be sure- yet, I have to wonder.

What is so tiresome to me Waymon and its not without some measure of irony that I write these comments on an LGBTQ blogsite, is that all of this mess is caused by religious beliefs run amok.

It seems, at least from my perspective, that the cost of religious beliefs is way too bloody, for us, for the Muslims, in fact for humanity as a whole. [ I say us as those who reside in the western nations as well as the LGBT community.]

In the end? Celebration just seems out of place.


Brody Levesque

I had friends at Cantor Fitzgerald that I dined with at Windows and shared a few drinks with at GReatest Bar on Earth one floor below. Hours after we parted, two were dead, one was late for work (a few too many drinks with me) and was saved as she was in the Sky Lobby

I was mostly stunned when I heard Osama was dead; then I said a silent prayer for his soul to find peace if possible, and one quiet address to my friends, to rest peacefully for justice had been done.

Thanks for sharing your story. As someone who works on the ground for an airline, I can only imagine what it must have been like in the air that day.

I was just getting out of bed when I got a call from a coworker that one of our planes crashed into the Twin Towers. I couldn't believe it. I rushed to turn the TV on, and within a matter of minutes I was watching the United flight being flown into the other tower.

I work in reservations, and by the time I left for work that morning, our other plane had been flown into the Pentagon, and the other United flight had crashed into the empty field.

My office was in chaos when I got there. They were already triple checking everyone's ID as we walked into the building, and putting verification stickers on them to show we were cleared to enter the building without any further checks. They were rushing to set up refresher classes so we could man the phones to take calls from friends and family of people on the planes. By the time they got to my department the calls had pretty much ended for the day. In some ways I'm glad, but in some way I wish I had been able to take some of the calls. Just so I could feel I was doing something useful that day.

To this day I still feel anger towards the hijackers,and those that aided in the planning of the 9/11 attacks.

When I heard last night that bin Laden was dead, a tiny bit of the anger I feel disappeared. It was replaced by a feeling of a small bit of justice has been served.

I wish he had been captured alive so he could stand trial. He received, however, what was probably his karmic due for the attacks.

Good to read your writing again Waymon and thanks for telling your story about your experience that horrible morning. For me I woke up that morning to see the first tower burning. Not three minutes later watched the second plane hit the other tower. Hell of a way to start a day watching 3000 plus people lose their lives. I still hate thinking about it and where America has gone since then. As for Osama Bin Laden I have no problem with him being killed he deserved it. I do worry about all the young men and women in the military stationed in Iraq and afghanistan and how his death will impact them.

Techchic | May 3, 2011 6:56 AM

On 911, I was in my home office in my basement. I was busily typing away and scheduling service calls for the day. Calling clients and staging parts. Then the phone rang, "Turn on CNN, NOW!!" It's was my now former and dearly departed wife calling from work where she was watching the TV in the lunchroom. I switched on the 13" TV in my office, and I couldn't believe what I saw. A large building on fire. Then the second plane hit. And like everyone else I knew this was no accident.

I was in a daze for a couple daze. I think everyone was. I was very emotional about it. My wife and I talked about it a lot. The night before this happened her and I fell asleep listening to an audio book about a terrorist attack involving an airplane. We never played it again after 911. It hit a little to close to the bone. It seemed prophetic that we were interested in that subject.

What really struck me personally, was how blue the sky was that day, and several days afterwords here in Wisconsin. And the lack of contrails in the sky. Kinda eerie. Etherial in a way.

I knew that war was coming, it made me sad.

I'm always intrigued by the various stories of where people were and what they were doing when 9/11 happened. My story isn't nearly as interesting as Waymon's and my lack of connection to the event (both physically and emotionally) stunts my ability to sympathize with those so affected by the tragedy. It's like I'm missing a little nugget of "What It Means To Be An American" or something.

Bil : Isn't it funny how humans think ? I can totally understand what you're saying. But, believe me, I was right here in NYC when it happened and you're lucky you missed it. Yes, I know it's fascinating, but it was so godawful too.

My brother-in-law (well, in spirit, anyway!) was at that time often in the Pentagon. We weren't sure for several hours whether or not he had been there that day. I will never forget just... waiting.

Or the fact that when we tried to call him, the message we got said that "due to the tornadoes in the area, the phone lines are out of service". There was no terrorism warning then.

I must admit to being pleased and relieved that bin Laden is dead. The thought of him sitting somewhere on the tenth anniversary and gloating was beginning to do things to me, and I'm glad that can never come to pass.

But I do feel kind of weird for that pleasure and relief. But only kind of.