(WSVN) - As Americans stood in shock on Sept. 11, 2001, one group had what seemed an impossible task: get the thousands of planes in the air on the ground immediately. Twenty years ago, Patrick Fraser talked to some of those air traffic controllers. Tonight, they came together again to recall the day that changed America.
Sept. 11, 2001, 8:45 a.m.
Our country was stunned as terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center.
At 9:03, United Flight 175 was blasted into the other World Trade Center tower.
Americans froze, and for a second, so did the men and women inside the Miami Air Traffic Control Center.
George Rivera: “It was very cold. It was very quiet.”
Twenty years ago, we spoke to George, Mark Schermeirster and Kim Bostick, who were working as air traffic controllers in Miami that morning.
Kimberly Bostick, 9/11 air traffic controller: “This was national security, and you have to do it. This is your job. Figure it out.”
Their job? Get the 5,050 commercial jets in the air on the ground as quickly as possible.
George Rivera, 9/11 air traffic controller: “We were in disbelief about what was happening, what was being asked of us. A monumental task to land every aircraft at the nearest airport didn’t seem possible.”
Two more planes were hijacked that morning and crashed by terrorists. At the time, the air traffic controllers didn’t know how many more jets might soon be taken over by murderers.
George Rivera: “That is why there was such a push to get all the airplanes on the ground. We could minimize the damage. They’re not going to fly to their intended targets if we could get them on the ground.”
And they did.
Look at the screen from Sept. 11. Each green object is a commercial jet.
Normally, it would take hours to land them. On 9/11, it had to be done as soon as possible.
Kimberly Bostick: “It was amazing. It was something that had never been done before. You took every plane in the sky at one time and put it on the ground.”
Twenty years later, Kimberly is retired. George still works with the air traffic controllers as a support specialist, and two decades later, both are still very proud of what they accomplished that day.
George Rivera: “That has been my busiest, most memorable day in my 36-year career.”
Kimberly Bostick: “People always term it that it is the most stressful job in the world. Well, OK, maybe that day it was.”
George will also never forget that night as he arrived at his house.
George Rivera: “It was almost eerie to go home that night and sit in the backyard and say, ‘Wow, there’s not a single airplane.’ Have you ever had a time where there’s not a another airplane that you cannot find in the sky? You can look everywhere, but we couldn’t see ’em.”
Kimberly thinks about the next day, as she looked at her screen at work.
Kimberly Bostick: “The next day, the only day that they call a no-hitter, where you never plugged in and worked an airplane all day. You had to be there, but there were no airplanes to work.”
Sept. 11, 2001…
Patrick Fraser: “Think you’ll ever see anything like that again in your lifetime?”
George Rivera: “I hope not.”
And if America is lucky, there will never be another day without a plane in the sky.
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