Archive for September, 2013

My 911 Story

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

On 9/11 I was flying between DC and New York and had a controller say this to me “there are fighters in the area and  we have scrambled US fighters”.  He also told me to land or risk being shot down.  Read the full story below.

My 9/11 story.  At the time I was chief pilot for a Part 91 flight department flying a Pilatus PC12 and Piper Saratoga.  I was also a contributing editor for a magazine called Avionics News. I wrote “pilot reports” for Avionics News. I flew new cockpit systems and/or avionics and wrote about them from a pilot’s perspective.  The morning of Sept 11 I took off on an IFR flight plan heading towards New York City.  I was to meet with some folks from Honeywell and fly a new terrain awareness system designed for helicopters.  The take-off and initial cruise was normal.  It was on one of the early handoffs to another sector that the first sign of trouble surfaced. I was told by the controller that there was an incident in New York and they may not take any IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) traffic.  I said that was not a problem, I could cancel IFR and just get flight following.  As I got closer to New York there was more discussion with the controllers as to whether I could proceed towards New York.  By this time there was chatter on the radio about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. My first thought was how could this happen on such a clear day.  More and more chatter about maybe a second plane hitting one of the towers.  And soon there was talk about one or both of the towers falling.  By this time I could hear the airliners trying to find places to divert.  But all of this did not make sense to me.  I still did not know what was going on.  Soon I could see the smoke from the towers.  Shortly after seeing smoke I was told by one of the New York controllers to turn around and “get out” of New York’s airspace. So I did.  I was able to contact the folks from Honeywell via the radio and told them that I had to turn around. They told me to contact them later and we may reschedule.  I decided to head home to Gaithersburg (KGAI) and use flight following with ATC. Some of the controllers seemed kind of surprised that I was flying from New York to DC.  One controller asked me “Who are you? Where did you come from?” This controller also asked me if I had been ordered to land.  I replied no. He said you are hereby ordered to land or risk being shot down. He added that there are fighters in the area and that we have scrambled US fighters. The way he said this implied that there were enemy aircraft in the area with US fighters.  Well this really shook me up.  By this time I was still east of the Carroll County Airport. When the controller told me to land asap I asked if I could continue to Gaithersburg.  I was told not to go anywhere near DC and was vectored to Carroll County Airport.  It was not until I got on the ground that I learned what was happening. I will never forget these words “there are fighters in the area and we have scrambled US fighters” – they were the controller’s exact words to me.

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