Above & Beyond: Pushback: Newark Airport, 8:45 a.m.
What 9/11 looked like from one airliner’s cockpit.
- By Anonymous
- Air & Space magazine, January 2002
(Page 4 of 6)
The intercom chimed in the cockpit. One of the passengers had noticed the smoke and asked a flight attendant what was going on. We told her we weren't sure. We were still thinking it was simply a terrible fire in one of the Trade Center towers, and we hoped it would be under control soon.
As we waited in the long line of airplanes ready for departure, another crew member asked ground control if they had any updates. This time, the ground controller hesitated, the replied, "We think we know what it is, but we don't want to say it over the radio."
One of the navigational aids that we use in the airplane is an Automatic Direction finder, which is essentially an AM radio receiver. During playoff seasons, we occasionally tune into radio stations to get sports scores for our passengers. Today, we frantically turned to a New York City news stations.
The radio was reporting that it appeared an airplane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. The initial reports said it was a small twin engine airplane.
We wondered if it was a LaGuardia-bound commuter airplane that had had engine trouble and had been unable to hold altitude. Maybe it was a sightseeing flight, common along the Hudson River, that had strayed off course?
As we looked across the river at the billowing smoke, I picked up another airplane flying low across the horizon from south to north. This was a common arrival pattern for LaGuardia airport, but the aircraft seemed much too low and much too fast. I followed it along, pointing it out to the captain. Both of us watched in stunned horror as it hit the other tower.
Damn, somebody got mesmerized looking at the fire and wasn't paying attention to where he was flying, I thought. But then—no. No one could be that distracted.
The captain and I looked at each other, but neither of us could find words. Suddenly, the silence was broken by the ground controller. "All right. Everybody shut them down. I just saw a 737 or an MD-80 hit the second tower. The World Trade Center is under attack."