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Traveling on Delta Flight 1989 on 9/11

[My thoughts about the day can be found at 9/11/2001 Thoughts. A detailed timeline of the events of the day at 9/11/2001 Timeline. I've also collected some pictures of 9/11.]

[This was written by a friend of mine and I find it interesting from a couple of different angles. I thank her for the permission to post it. As an aside, the Delta flight 1989 she was on was initially thought to be flight 93 since they were very close in the sky at the time that 93 was hijacked. Her flight was the only 8am flight out of Boston bound for LA that was not hijacked. It was also a 767 and full of fuel. Given discussions with some of the 9/11 skeptics/tinfoil-hat-types out there, I felt compelled to add some additional details and some comments from the author of this piece. I also have scanned in her scrapbook from the time. ]

Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2001 12:19:40 EDT
Subject: A close brush with death and happy to be alive

Dear Friends,

Many of you knew that [my spouse] and I and many [fellow] employees were on an 8 am flight from Boston to LA on Tuesday morning. I am happy to be alive and to be able to tell you of the events of our harrowing journey. Even though it has been only 48 hours since we departed Logan, it feels as though a lifetime has passed.

[My spouse] and I and six other fellow [...] employees were on the 8 am flight from Boston to Los Angeles on Tuesday, but we were on the Delta flight [1989], the one out of three 8am flights departing Logan that did not get hijacked. Instead, we were forced to make an emergency landing in Cleveland because there were reports that a bomb or hijacking was taking place on our plane. The pilot had radioed that there was suspicious activity in the cabin since one of the passengers was speaking urgently on his cellphone and ignored repeated flight attendant requests to stop using his cell phone while in flight. Also, there was an irregularity in the passenger manifest because there were two people [with the same middle eastern name] who were listed but only one aboard.

After our emergency landing, our plane was directed to go to an isolated area of the airport, and we waited for over two hours in quarantine before FBI agents and bomb sniffing dogs came out to the plane. Just after we landed, the pilot gave us permission to make one very brief telephone call before we were banned from any further telephone use. The sixty or so passengers were thus able to gather some alarming details of the unbelievable fates of the other two LA-bound planes and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, the suicide bombing of the Pentagon as well as reports of other plane crashes in PA and LA (LA proved unfounded) before we were cut off from any further communication. Unfortunately, all this information only added to the alarm and confusion we felt as we waited for over two hours far away from the gates of the airport.

Finally, a caravan of cars bearing FBI and Treasury agents and bomb sniffing dogs approached our airplane. About twenty or so armed FBI agents and police officers boarded the plane and said there were concerns about our flight and that they were taking precautions to rule out any further danger. We finally were allowed off the plane, told to take all of our personal items and leave everything at the edge of the tarmac. While our personal effects were examined we were taken to a secure building at the airport where for three hours we were interrogated at length about any unusual or suspicious activities we observed at Logan that morning or during our flight. We were all alarmed and distraught about the dribs and drabs of information we were slowly getting from our telephone calls (none of us was able to see a TV or listen to a radio) and feeling unbelievably lucky to be alive.

The agents interrogated two of the passengers at length and we later learned that one of them had an expired drivers' license and that the social security number on his license did not match the one he gave. Despite these unusual circumstances, we were all eventually released and went back to the airplane to gather our belongings. We were then escorted out of the airport without going through the main terminal to avoid what the FBI called a "media circus" because the mayor of Cleveland was holding a press conference stating that there was a bomb on our plane and a hijacker in the cabin. Fortunately we were unaware of these goings-on at the time or it would only have increased our alarm. (By the way, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper the next morning confirmed all of this and reported that the mayor retracted his comments later that afternoon.)

Because we were in protective custody or detention at the Cleveland airport for so many hours I was not able to make phone calls to let our children know we were okay, and child [...] spent a couple of extremely distraught hours after the school assembly announced the horrific events of the morning. S/he knew [my spouse] and I were on an 8 am flight from Boston to LA and when s/he learned that the two airplanes that crashed into the two WTC towers were 8am flights from Boston s/he feared the worst. S/he called home but there was no one to take the call. S/he had to wait a couple of agonizing hours before we were finally able to call the school to let [them] know we were shaken but alive. Fortunately, I was able to reach [my other child's] school and they pulled [her/him] out of class to reassure [her/him] that we were safe before making the announcement of what had happened that day. We were also able to relay information to [our other child] that we were safe before s/he learned what had happened.

Eight other of our employees, including my [sibling ...], left earlier that morning on another flight to LA, a Sun Air flight that made a connecting stop in Minneapolis. [My sibling] is feeling fortunate that the terrorists did not target their plane because it probably did not have the full load of fuel that a direct flight to LA would have, and it seems they targeted only nonstop flights filled to capacity with fuel. In all, there were 16 [company] employees on two flights to LA leaving at or around 8 am Tuesday heading for [the company's] semi-annual training in LA. The statistical odds of all of us escaping injury and harm are mind-boggling.

My [sibling ...], a [...] executive at [...], works frequently out of an office in the World Trade Center and we were unable to reach him because the telephone circuits to NYC were jammed. I knew s/he and [spouse ...] had vacation plans sometime in September, but I couldn't remember when they were supposed to be back in NYC. We later learned that s/he and [spouse] were just returning from a vacation to Paris and were over the Atlantic when the disaster struck and their plane was turned around to return to Paris, where they remain until they are able to get back home.

These have been the most devastating hours and days. Although it is only two days ago, I feel that a lifetime has passed by. So many people's lives are forever altered. Yesterday while I was watching Good Morning America I was stunned to see three members of [a] family from Onset/Wareham on the television and learned that their brother [...], whom I knew as a child, was on the American Airlines flight that crashed into the WTC. He was supposed to fly out on Monday, but events changed and he was delayed until Tuesday.

Our brush with death was frighteningly close. When our company made the travel arrangements for our trip to LA two months ago, [my spouse] told the staff to book us on the American flight 11, the flight we usually take to LA, but in the day it took for the travel agent to get back to us, the price of the flight had gone up several hundred dollars, and for economic reasons only, [my spouse] instructed the staff to look for a less expensive flight. Fortunately, Delta Airlines had a lower fare. With gallows humor we have all been expressing how grateful we are that [my spouse] is so economy-minded when it comes to travel expenses. Humor aside, though, we are all shaken by how close a call this was, and humbled by the realization that with all of these coincidences, Someone Above must be looking out for us.

In another ironic twist, I had not planned to go on the trip to LA because of my very full schedule of conservation work and the usual back-to-school activities at this time of year. [My spouse] has been very patient and supportive of all the work I've been doing even though it has interfered with our personal lives and was understanding but very disappointed that I would not be joining him on the trip to LA. So, I decided two weeks ago that I would surprise him and meet him in LA by taking another flight. Everyone at [the company] was in on the secret. His assistant [...] helped me explore other flights, and since I had a lot of frequent flier miles on American Airlines we were trying to book a flight on American. She got flight information, but was unable to reach me by telephone to finalize arrangement and e-mailed me. I mistakenly wrote back to her at her home email to tell her to book the flight, and our communications missed each other for a critical one day period. So she and [...], [the company's] operations director, decided in the meantime to use the Delta Airlines miles the company had accrued, since they had just enough for my ticket. Without that missed telephone call and e-mail, I very well might have been using my frequent flier miles on the fated American flight.

I can't tell you how many people on our flight had a similar story. One woman on our flight was an employee of TJ Maxx, and her 15 or so co-workers were on the American flight. She had been furious that her employer wouldn't let her fly with the others because the price of the flight had gone up so much before she booked it. That is how she ended up on our Delta flight.

Delta was very accommodating to us during our ordeal. They put us up in a hotel for the night and kept us updated on events. Unable, and frankly unwilling to fly back to Boston, we rented cars in Cleveland yesterday and arrived home in Boston at 3 am this morning. I am trying to contact all of my friends to let them know that we are okay.

Thanks for your many calls and your e-mails. We are extremely fortunate to be alive. Say prayers for the thousands of unfortunate people who have been lost in this senseless tragedy, and for their families and children.

With love and extreme gratitude,

[...]

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