On September 10th, I was checking in for my flight to San Francisco from Rio De Janiero, Brazil. The ground staff began issuing boarding passes for a flight via Newark on September 11th, then tore them up saying that the check in deadline for that flight had passed. They rebooked me on a flight via Miami instead.
After an uneventful flight to Miami, I boarded United flight 984 to San Francisco. We took off over the high rises of downtown Miami at 7.45 am, and the aircraft, a 767, was almost empty.
Two hours into the flight I was watching a video program called ‘Earthquake in New York’ predicting a quake there and an expert came on and said, ‘The Twin Towers would survive an earthquake…’ at that very moment a tense voice came through the headphones, ‘cabin crew to the cockpit, emergency,’ and the passengers who had heard that pulled off their earphones and looked bewildered around the cabin; immediately the plane began banking and dropping sharply; the flaps were up on the wing to slow us down as fast as possible. I immediately began paying attention to the noises around me and the plane sounded fine; but there was no announcement at all as to what was happening if it was a mechanical problem…. as i listened to the crew prepare us for an emergency landing (in Oklahoma, the TV screens told us) I looked for a phone to call my family but there wasn’t one, the aircraft wasn’t equipped with phones.
Later that day as stories came in of passengers on the hijacked jets calling family I realized what it would have been like to be on the hijacked planes and have to call to say goodbye.
We continued to drop very quickly and did a bumpy landing in Oklahoma and saw about 12 aircraft rapidly land on the runway immediately after us; then we realized the situation was much bigger than just our plane alone. The captain finally came on and said that there had been a national emergency and we were to get off the plane as fast as possible. When we got to the terminal we found it full of people just standing around watching the TV… by then the towers had fallen, all the planes had crashed and there were still planes missing. We were then rushed off to a hotel as the airport was closed and later reports came in of UA flight 93, the flight I had narrowly been booked on, was the plane that had crashed in Pennsylvania.
For two and a half days we bonded with our crew and passengers and when we did take off we were like old friends. The 2 hour flight to San Francisco was tense but calm, and the cabin crew performed the safety demo with defiance. When we arrived at the gate, ground staff outside the plane were cheering and waving US flags, and when we entered the darkened terminal there were more staff waving flags and cheering us…..it was quite a welcome after such a traumatic and stressful three days.