Divert in the Interest of National Security

ALPA Pilots Remember

By Captain Wesley Monge, Atlantic Southeast

September 11, 2001, was an early report for my crew in ATL. We had a four-leg day flying the EMB-120 with our first roundtrip to Wilmington, N.C., and back. It was a clear day as the sun rose, and the flight to ILM was uneventful. It was on the flight back to ATL when things got “interesting.” As we passed over Florence, S.C., we heard some chatter on Comm 2 (Atlanta radio) about some sort of small plane that had hit a building in New York. There were no details given, and nothing else was said.

Curious, I dialed in an AM station on the ADF, and what we heard next was almost unbelievable. While it was confusing and speculative at that point, the news media was reporting that some type of aircraft, possibly one as big as an airliner, had hit the World Trade Center. My F/O and I were in disbelief and likened what we were hearing to War of the Worlds, just waiting for the gig to be up. But it wasn’t—and as we passed Augusta, Ga., on the Sinca Arrival, it became very apparent to us that something real big was happening. We decided to go max forward speed to get back to ATL and see what was happening. Shortly after is when we got the call from dispatch.

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Just north of Macon, Ga., over the Sinca intersection, we were told to divert to Augusta in the interest of national security as quickly as possible. As a new father with a 10-month-old baby girl at home, I requested that we go straight in to Macon since it was closer to our position (and only 40 miles from my house—something told me we weren’t going anywhere for a while) but was told that Macon was already planned full and we were to go to Augusta. We landed sometime after 9:30 that morning and deplaned the passengers so we could get them in the terminal and inform them of what was happening. Minutes later, we sadly watched together as the South Tower fell.

After discussions with Dispatch and Scheduling, it was apparent we weren’t going anywhere else that day. As we waited for the hotel van to pick us up, we again stood speechless as we watched the north tower fall. My crew spent the next 30 hours in Augusta with nothing but our flight bags, watching television and learning along with the rest of the country what was going on. While we shared the hotel with many crews from various airlines, my crew was the only one on a day line and had no overnight bags.

We were finally authorized to rent a car and return to ATL the evening of September 12. Interstate 20 was lined with a police presence I’d never seen before, as was the Atlanta airport when we arrived. What we experienced next, we will never forget. We returned the rental car, and the airport was eerily quiet. It took us a couple of minutes to realize how truly quiet ATL was. No engines, no APUs, no tugs, nothing. We’d never heard the airport dead silent and hope we never do again. We were relieved to be back home and fortunate to be on our way to our families.

I, along with the rest of the world, watched the story unfold during the days after 9/11. Our comrades are gone, but will never be forgotten. I proudly pinned on my red, white, and blue remembrance ribbon and still wear it in their memory today.

This article was originally published in the September 2011 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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