My 911 story

This blog started in March 2004, about two and a half years after 9/11.  I’ve done a few political posts and talked about the war on terror, but generally keep it a bit lighter.  On the 10th anniversary of 9/11 however, I feel the need to document my story on that day….before I forget more of it than I already have.
My airline ticket on 9/11
I woke up early on Tuesday morning (for whatever reason I do distinctly remember that it was a Tuesday) because I had to fly to San Diego that day.  I was working for Convergys at the time and there was a big wireless industry trade show that was starting the following day.  I had something for breakfast, kissed DeAnna and the kids goodbye and headed out the door.  Like everyone else, I do remember it being a very crisp and bright blue sky kind of day.
I made my way to the airport, parked my car, got my ticket and went through security.  I don’t remember if we had to separate out our laptops or not, but I know I kept my shoes on and didn’t have to show my toothpaste in a ziploc baggie.  I walked down to the gate and met up with a few friends.  I had been flying a bit the previous year (when I worked for SDRC) so I was Silver Medallion on Delta – which actually was enough to get a system wide upgrade back then – so I was sitting in first class.  Seat 4A and next to me was one of my co-workers, Joe Feldkamp, in seat 4B.  We had some orange juice as we tool our seats and pretty soon we were taxing out and on our way.  We took off in a Boeing 757 on Delta flight 343 to San Diego at around 9:10 AM on September 11th 2001 – almost 20 minutes after American Flight 11 had struck the North Tower.
There was nothing remarkable about the take off or cruise to 36,000 feet.  I was reading a newspaper, Wall Street Journal I think, and figuring out if I was going to have the in flight breakfast or not.  About 30 minutes into the flight, things changed.  The captain came on the PA and rather than his normal welcome, he announced that he was getting word that there was an “issue” (not sure of that was the exact word or not…) that might force the FAA to shut down the grid and that if we turned around now they would let us land in Cincinnati, but if we kept going for another 5-10 minutes while they decided and it did close, we would have to land in St. Louis.  “We’re going back” and we immediately took a bank to the left and headed back home.
Five minutes later the pilot came back on the PA and announced that he had word that a plane had struck one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  My mind immediately flashed to an image of the twin towers with the tail of a Cessna sticking out of one of them.  I seem to remember that a few months / years earlier there had been an accident (or was it an attack?) on the White House and remember seeing the images of a small plane’s wreckage on the lawn of the WH.  Surely this must be something similar.
We continued on our way to Cincinnati and Joe decided he wanted to call home.  They still had airphones in the seats at this time – I think they were GTE if I remember right.  Joe picked on up and wiped his card and I did the same with mine.  After a few attempts I finally got through to DeAnna and gave her our status – “Everything is OK here.  We’re coming back to Cincinnati.  What’s going on?”  She didn’t have any news for me right then, but I could tell she was worried.  There were no more announcements from the pilot.  I think he was getting more news than he wanted to share and was focused on getting us back to CVG and on the ground safely.
We landed…and there was no place to go.  There were so many planes that had been grounded in CVG that all of the gates were full.  We ended up parking at a set of portable stairs that let us descend to the tarmac and then walk in through a baggage entrance into concourse A of Terminal 3.  When I got up to the terminal it was obviously packed.  Across the way I saw one of my neighbors who had also been on a flight they turned back to Cincinnati very shortly after take off.  We talked briefly and decided both to head home.  It was pretty clear no one was going anywhere that day.  There were people everywhere.  No one was directing anyone to do anything or giving out any information.  All of the TVs in the terminal were switched off (I remember very distinctly that they were still the old tube TVs – massive things hung from the ceiling).
I tried to call home on my cell but the call wouldn’t go through.  I headed down the escalator to the tunnel that connected concourse A to ticketing and then rode back up another escalator to ground level.  I found my car (think I was still driving my 1996 Ford Contour SE at the time), started it up and turned on the radio.  It was then I first heard about what was really going on.  It wasn’t a small plane.  It wasn’t an accident.  There was more to come.  Once I got out of the parking garage I tried to call home again.  This time I got through and I could hear the worry and panic coming through the line.  I told DeAnna I was on the ground and headed home.
I listened to the radio all the way home.  Reports where coming in of a plane down near Cleveland.  There were still 7-10 planes unaccounted for.  Fighters had been scrambled over major metropolitan areas.  The Sears tower in Chicago was being evacuated.  I made it home and pulled into the driveway.  My father in law was over that day (he made it a habit to come over every Tuesday when the kids were young) so I couldn’t get in the garage.  I walked in the house and got my first glimpses of the images from New York.  They had just started to air the video of the Flight 175 hitting the south tower when I walked in.  The next few hours where a blur.  We just sat and watched.
Sometime around noon I had had enough.  We switched off the TV and just went outside.  It hit me then: that morning a bunch of people all over the US had gotten up early to make a flight to somewhere.  They drove to the airport.  Got their tickets.  Went through security.  Got on a plane – maybe they even got upgraded and felt lucky!  Took off and climbed to 36,000 feet.  All of those things happened to me too.  But for an unfortunate subset of those people,  then something terrible happened.
I am not a 911 hero.  I didn’t do any more after 911 than everyone else did: I prayed, I gave blood, I went to a few rally’s and waved an American flag.  But still to this day I feel strangely close to the crew and passengers on on AA flight 11, UA flight 175, AA flight 77 and  UA flight 93.  But for the grace of God, DL 343 is not on that list.






2 responses to “My 911 story”

  1. Dennis Kelley Avatar
    Dennis Kelley

    It was a very scary day , hell, week for everyone in the Kelley Family. It is good of you to put down your experiences for your world to know what you did THAT day. We thank God everyday that your pilot was smart enough to turn the plane back to Cincinnati. If you had landed in St. louis who knows when you would have gotten back to your family. God bless those who lost loved ones that day and may hell and damnation rain down on the people who did this to you and our counrty. I love you Son .

  2. Lisa Avatar

    I can't even imagine how terrified DeAnna was that morning. I remember calling John and telling him to get home. Not that the Convergys building would be much of a target, but I just wanted him home. So glad your plane was OK.

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