I was someone who traveled frequently on business in the late 1990s, early 2000s. A colleague and I were scheduled on 9/11 for a day trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau, Bahamas, then flying to an out island to evaluate a property’s potential for development. We took off at 8 am and landed in Nassau between 8:45 to 8:50. While taxiing to the gate in Nassau, I noticed a wide bodied jet on the tarmac with Saudi identification.
We went through customs and were proceeding through the terminal when a Bahamian airport security officer stopped us and asked if we knew about what was happening in New York. After he explained about the two airliners crashing into the WTC, we called our home office and verified what he had said. We had to switch planes to go to the out island, so we proceeded to the general aviation section of the airport to board our six seat charter to the Exuma Island chain. While waiting for the pilot we watched television with the locals as the towers collapsed, the news of the Pentagon attack flashed across the screen, and it was announced that all air traffic in the U.S. was grounded until further notice.
Since flying within the Bahamas was not affected we proceeded with our flight, the analysis, and the return flight to Nassau. Once back in Nassau we found ourselves stranded with only the clothes on our back. Luckily there were a few rooms left at the British Colonial Hilton when we arrived. At the hotel, we noticed people from many parts of the world at the hotel as many trans-Atlantic flights had been forced to land in Nassau. In addition, there were many U.S. citizens in the same position as us. We went toward the U.S. Embassy that was just down the street; however decided against it as we saw wire, and armored car and men with automatic rifles stationed in front.
In the following days, my colleague and I, along with the other U.S. citizens repeatedly checked in with the embassy to determine our options. (As a side note about the Saudi airliner that I had mentioned earlier- we were invite by a business associate in Nassau to have dinner at a restaurant at the Atlantis resort. His brother held a fairly high position at the resort. He explained to us the a very wealthy Saudi along with approximately seventy other Saudis had rented complete floors at the hotel.)
Finally , on Friday we were notified that some U.S. ports (including Port Everglades) were now open, and that a gambling cruise ship was traveling to Grand Bahama Island on a day excursion. If we could get from Nassau to Grand Bahama , we could board the ship and get home. Along with a number of other Americans we pooled our available money together and chartered a nineteen seat plane for the flight. One major problem was that we were flying directly into Tropical Storm Gabrielle. It was a flight from hell. The plane bounced, and dove for over an hour as the pilot could not locate the airfield. People on board were actually crying – yes crying, thinking that we were going to crash and that we would be a footnote to 9/11 history. The pilots eventually located the airport and we landed without incident. They pushed the mobile stairway up to the plane and we disembarked and I remember on man getting on his knees and kissing the ground.
Everyone rushed over to the building that housed the casino cruise office and bought tickets home. We took taxis to the port at West End and waited. We all boarded the ship and headed to Port Everglades. People were just laying on top of their luggage sleeping on what reminded me of a refugee ship. Finally at 1 am Saturday morning we arrived at the port, in the U.S. – and finally home.