Remembering 9-11 (Part 14: If Only You Had Used Us!)
While the Boston Marathon tragedy is still fresh in our memory, I find it very positive that the FBI, was a team player working not only with the local police forces, but also allowed the public to assist them in the search for the bombing terrorists. When pictures were released and information given, the Boston residents, the uncle of the terrorists, and massive internet responses allowed the law enforcement teams the ability to find and apprehend the suspects. Within days one was dead, the other in custody. This result took an action that was very negative and turned it into something positive as people all over our nation stood together, rallying around the victims and the many heroes involved with the outcome. The city of Boston became a city of pride, a city of strength, a city connected! They showed mankind at its best – at its higher self. This positive experience stands in sharp contrast to the tragic events of 9-11-2001 which started in that same city.
Thinking about the differences made me wonder if the flight crews prior to 9-11 had been given some kind of indication about the threat they were facing in the sky, would those horrible attacks have been successful. There certainly would have been red flag warnings that morning if the flight crews had been told something rather than being told nothing. An old saying that “ignorance is bliss” could not have been farther from the truth.
In our training we are taught not to profile, and we are taught that safety is the number one priority. Also in our training we are required to take annual hijacking refresher courses. Plus in our profession we are in tune with people’s behavior.
In October of 2012, I asked a question on a website that is mostly for United active and retired flight attendants. My question read, “I am writing a series of articles about our crews that were murdered in the terror of 9-11. I had a specific question about outbound flights on September 10, 2001, but most of my answers dealt with the strange and ominous behavior of Middle Eastern men that had traveled on their flights. I had over 60 responses, but no matter what base these flight attendants were domiciled out of or what flights they were on, they all remembered Atta.
One flight attendant wrote that the year before 9-11 Mohammed Atta and two other men were on her 757 flight, all in First Class and all in aisle seats. They continually asked questions such as, “Can we go into the cockpit?”, “Where do the other flight attendants sit?” All of these questions were under the pretense that they were pilots in the Saudi Arabian Air Force. As the questions continued, she became rather unnerved. They did not eat; they just sat, asked, and stared. She and the captain both realized that the questions were contrived to see how they communicated.
After 9-11, she saw Atta’s face as one of the hijackers of American Flt 11 which crashed in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. She wrote, “My blood ran cold. We should have written flight reports, but about what? What we sensed? We had no proof. It was unnerving then and overwhelming now.”
Another wrote about flying out of Newark, and often flew Flt 93 from Newark to San Francisco. She also said she saved her flight manifest from her different trips, and when the newspaper released the pictures of the hijackers a chill went through her entire body. She knew that Mohammed Atta had been on one of her flights. The newspaper also said that the hijackers often inverted their names and there on her flight manifest from just weeks before was the name Atta Mohammed. She called the FBI and in no time they were at her door collecting her property. Those manifest are somewhere with gobs of other potent information not shared with the public
Another flight attendant wrote that a few months before 9-11 she had several young men of Middle Eastern descent on her flight. Two of the group sat in First Class while the others settled into Coach. They did not eat or drink even though they had special meals boarded for them. The passenger in the first row watched her every move. Because she was so uncomfortable, she remembered his face. When the pictures came out of the 19 hijackers, she recognized Marwan-al-Shehhi, the pilot that took over the controls of United Flt 175 after Captain Victor Saracini and copilot Michael Horrocks were killed.
As I continued to read these chilling stories, it seemed the closer it got to September 11th, Atta and the others became even more memorable because their hatred for us infidels was getting stronger and stronger. Atta’s eyes were piercing to begin with, but add in all that hate he held inside, I am sure it felt like they were looking into the eyes of the devil.
One flight attendant reported that she saw a television interview with actor James Woods. The story reported that Woods, while on a United flight one month prior to 9-11, got into a confrontation with one of the future hijackers sitting in First Class. Woods did so because of the terrible rudeness of the man to the First Class flight attendant. The FBI reportedly went to his house after the crashes and spoke with him. He recognized two of the hijackers/murders.
The wounds made by these traveling hijackers to many flight crews, American and other carriers as well as United, cannot be measured. Each one had their own experience and each one has their own unique wounds. But the deepest wound/scar, even to this day, is “what if the actions of 9-11 could have been prevented by the flight crews if they had known what could be potentially happening and what they should have done.”
IF ONLY YOU HAD USED US!!
We worked on the airplanes, but you didn’t think to warn us.
We could have been your eyes and ears, but you chose to exclude us.
We had been warned of threats before, but you kept this one from us.
We had stories to tell and flight manifests to share, but no one cared to ask us.
We were there for you, but your choice was silence, and we paid the price.
We grieve now for the lost crews and carry guilt for not doing more, but think, just
think, if you could have only used us.
We also grieve for our loss of jobs and early forced retirements, but mainly we grieve because we were in danger but nobody cared, and we know this because you didn’t use us.