Waymon Hudson

9/11 Remembered: A Flight Attendant's Story

Filed By Waymon Hudson | September 11, 2008 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: 9/11, flight attendant, remembrance day, September 11

Many of you may know that I am a former flight attendant. What you may not know is that I was in the air on September 11th, working a flight leaving New York City going to Florida. I worked for an airline that has live TV's in every seat, so we were some of the few people in the air that actually watched the horrors of that day unfold live.

It all started normally enough. The crew of 6 (four flight attendants and two pilots) met for the early morning flight, expecting a short trip to Tampa and back. The plane was full of people, mostly bleary-eyed from having to make it to the airport on time. We did a quiet, low-key service, chatting with the few passengers who were awake, then went to our respective galleys to rummage up some breakfast for ourselves.

Then it happened.

We heard a murmur pass through the cabin and then dozens of attendant "call-buttons" went off. We ran into the cabin to find people crying and asking us what was going on. The crew had no idea (we don't have TV's in our galleys), so we sat with the passengers and watched in horror as the news came in: a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

The news didn't know what was happening- if it was an accident or something more. I got on the phone with our pilots, who knew only a few small facts from chatter on the radio. We set up a communication line, updating our pilots with news from the TV as it came in. No changes were made at first and we continued on the flight plan. We were almost ready to start our descent into Tampa when the entire plane seemed to scream at one time.

A second plane had hit. This was a terrorist attack.

The crew went into crowd control mode as we were told by the pilots that we were being ordered to land immediately. The plane went into a sharp decent into Tampa as we worked to calm passengers while at the same time arming ourselves with whatever we could find as "weapons" in case we had hijackers on board as well- coffee pots, fire extinguishers, anything we could use to defend ourselves and our plane.

We landed safely in Tampa, where police met the plane to help unload panicked passengers. Our little crew of 6 sat on the empty plane, holding hands and watching in shock as reports came in of other planes going down and crashing. We tried to call friends, to find out if our co-workers were okay or on the planes that went down, but couldn't get through the overcrowded lines. As a New York based airline, we all feared the worst.

We were contacted by flight control and told we were going to be grounded in Tampa indefinitely. They rushed us out (again with police) and sent us to a hotel, where we gathered in a room and watched as more horrible news came in- the towers collapsed, thousands were feared dead, rumors flew that more planes had gone down.

We later found out family had been trying to reach us, but cell phones were useless. All we could do was sit in shocked silence and wait for news.

We ended up being grounded in Tampa for over 10 days, after which we flew an empty plane back to New York. We saw the still smoldering ground-zero site as we came in for a landing. We sat in the quiet airport as we received our briefing on what was happening and what the future of our company and jobs were.

In the days that followed, I went into the city, attended vigils for the victims (including my fellow flight attendants). I cried and waved as first responders and firefighters drove by to help in the recovery effort. I looked for the faces of friends in the thousands of missing persons fliers that were posted around the city. I continued to fly nearly empty planes, the whole time fearing that it could happen again.

To me, 9-11 was a horrible, personal experience. It could have easily have been my plane that was used as a weapon. That is why it sadden and disgusts me as I watch politicians use it as a bumper sticker "call to action" or as a reason to chip away at personal freedoms and rights.

It was a dark day for our country, a tragedy on a national scale. It should be remembered with gravity and respect, not cheapened as a political ad for any candidate or party.

Crossposted on Bilerico-Florida

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Well said, Waymon. The entire country has personal memories of where we were when it happened; the people around us that shared our experiences with us, the emotions that we felt as the horror unfolded. All of us were touched, moved, affected by these events. I couldn't agree more on the attempt to cheapen this shared memory by co-opting it in an effort to scare the country for political sway.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 11, 2008 10:21 AM

Waymon, in your own way you were as much of a hero as anyone.

All I could do that day was try to keep a lid on my own emotions and take stock of life. We closed our office at 10:30 sending everyone home and sat and contemplated the horror. The unreality of trying to figure out why we were so hated and why we did not know we were so hated. Do we know yet?

It's a small world, Waymon. I had flown into Tampa to speak at the local LGBT business association, and sat with my horrified hosts in front of their home TV watching the Twin Towers go down during that not-to-be-forgotten morning. I was also stranded there in Tampa. You and I must have brushed shoulders in that quiet airport afterwards, on the day that flights finally resumed.

Thanks for sharing this story with us.

One of my flight attendant friends had just taken off from LGA en route back to Houston. She told me she was still sitting in her jumpseat looking at the Towers out her window when she saw the first plane hit the building.

Over the next week during the ground stop I had others tell me stories about being stranded in various places in the CAL system. The international ones had some interesting stories to tell as well about being clustered five and ten in a room while anxiously glued to the TV looking for news.

Bless all those who tragically lost their lives that day.

Sometimes I feel oddly disconnected to 9/11. I was working as a convenience store manager at the time at a store about an hour from home. Jerame called me automatically and a few customers stopped in to say that there was an accident at the World Trade Center. Jerame, though, wasn't sure it was an accident.

He stayed glued to CNN as events unfolded and watched the 2nd plane hit live on TV. It really affected him.

Me? Not so much. I was at work without a TV or radio. My only news came from the customers who stopped in and were willing to talk. And about an hour after the 2nd plane hit, we were swamped with customers stocking up on gas. We ran out of gas twice that afternoon and would have to wave people away. The line to get gas was so long it stretched out of the parking lot, down the street and onto the highway.

My most vivid memory of 9/11 is standing in the middle of the highway like a police officer and directing traffic - either into the gas line, around the gas line, or away from the station when we ran out of gas. I remember the gas tanker pulling up to the station and cars streaming in behind it like ants.

The people were generally pleasant, but quiet. A few people were anxious and snippy and two got into a fight at the pumps while trying to pull their cars into the same pump. A small female cashier went out and chastised them both for acting like children when others had much bigger worries than buying gas today. They both were shamed and one of the men stayed and helped us direct traffic for about an hour afterwards as his way of saying, "I'm sorry I acted like a jerk."

By the time I got home that night, the story was playing over and over on the news, but in those short clips that disassociate everything from reality. I had all four plane crashes and the fall of both towers to see in 30 second segments all night. Never different clips, always the same ones.

To me, it never felt real. I only experienced it in sound bites and short clips like a digital Viewmaster. I didn't know anyone in danger or anyone who died.

I got back up the next morning and started another day at the job, but without the same amount of drama as the day before; we were out of gas again. It took until that afternoon before we were able to get more fuel and the morning just drug since our store traffic was negligible. Again, our only personalization to the tragedy was our customers.

We, literally, lived through 9/11 vicariously.

Thanks for sharing your story, Waymon. I remember waking up to the phone ringing off the hook at 6:00 AM on a Tuesday. My roommate's mother was trying to contact us because his sister was attending seminary right across from the Pentagon. She was worried about Jason's sister, but she was also worried about us because we traveled so much for debate. She had no idea if we were supposed to be traveling that day or not. We didn't hear about Jason's sister for a few days. She was fine, but she was busy ministering to the people who were affected by the Pentagon crash.

I agree with you - I hate how 9/11 has become a political catch phrase that is used to justify terrible political policies. And ever time I hear the phrase "winning the war on terror," I want to punch somebody. How do you declare/win a war against an emotional state? It's vacuous, I tell you . . . vacuous!

Thank you for sharing that. I can certainly relate to the anger that wells up when 9/11 is used for agendas. Any agendas.

At the time, I was pre-transition and fairly well-known for digital artwork. One correspondent I acquired in the process was a New York woman in transition, whose female partner worked in the WTC. The event hit a personal nerve when I learned that her partner died in the attack. And she, quite broken, grew more sullen, distant and dark, until my last correspondence with her, about 7 months later. To date, I still don't know what has become of her.

I think we all do well to sometimes remember those surreal, sombre days when the little things ceased to matter (except from a local sports DJ, who seemed more concerned that the grounding of the planes might prevent the local football team from playing in Saskatchewan, three days following). I remember all that chaos at work, when our radio was confused with rumours of other planes, already there was talk about anthrax concerns, and our regular customers (with whom we'd spoken only facetiously and sometimes fought with) were coming in and it's almost like they wanted to hug us and cry.

It was a dark day for our country, a tragedy on a national scale. It should be remembered with gravity and respect, not cheapened as a political ad for any candidate or party.


Waymon thank you for telling your story I would imagine it would have been quite frightening to be on an airplane at that time.That morning I woke up and turned on the tv three minutes before the second plane hit.I wasn't quite awake and it seemed like a nightmare hearing about the first plane hitting the first tower then I watched the second one hit on live tv and I was like wtf.I called my boss in tears and told him what I'd seen and he said he knew it was decided that we'd still work so I got ready and went.I've had mixed feelings about working that day and the days right after but I think it helped me to deal with it by not dwelling on it to much although it was well discussed.Hopefully one day this war on terror will end and those who were responsible will have found out the answer to if there is a god and the name.

Curtis Morton | September 12, 2008 11:58 AM


Thank you for sharing your experience of this horrific event. You are right that we need to never forget the people who we lost that terrible day, whether in the air or on the ground. And again, I agree with you in that politicians should not exploit that awful incident for their own political gains; it makes them look pathetic and unsympathetic. 9/11 should be a day of remembrance. Thanks again!


Waymon: I'm a retired commercial helicopter pilot, and I was flying that day, too. What I recall is the ineffable sadness we all felt as the skies were empty, radio chatter almost non-existent, and FAA oversight was smothering. As an air medical pilot I was grounded only two days, but the first day back in the air was unnerving, and eerie. It was like having the sky to myself, in a vast silence, with an inexplicable sense of impending doom. I didn't like it. It was comforting to once again hear radio calls, FAA direction, and the normal airborne chatter return.
None of us fully appreciate how thin is the veneer of civility, and how little it takes to expose us to unspeakable horror. In a roundabout way this is why we need more radio chatter among ourselves, our neighbors, and particularly people we don't understand. Under the vast sky we're all the same.

Under the vast sky we're all the same.

I couldn't have said it better, Byron.

Hi Waymon,
Thank you for sharing your experience. I hate this Sept 11 every year since this terrible day. Even though so many years have passed I will never forget that day for the rest of my life. I remember the rumble in my chair as the first plane hit. I remember feeling a wave a heat pass though my office a few seconds later. I remember the feeling of panic as I looked out my windows over looking the Hudson river into NJ, one I had enjoyed so many morning before.
You see, I worked in for a finacial firm that was based in the Twin Towers. The panic I felt as I looked out the window was the site of the smoldering debris falling in front of my eyes. My first thought was a bomb had gone off in our building. As I prepared to get out of chair after the shock wore off, someone announced over the building intercam that a SMALL plain had hit the building next to us and to stay in our office. For me, I KNEW that there was something MUCH bigger that just happened. I reasoned that NO SMALL PLAIN would also shake our building like it did. I told my office mate that I was leaving, he hesitated and finally followed me (Later he thanked me for advising him to leave because he was not planning on leaving). There was a lot of panic on our floor as we approached the stairway. Once we got into the stairway I remember thinking that we are never going to get out of the building. But something deep told me to keep going on. One of the many things that still haughnt me even today are the faces of the police and firefighters that where going up the stairs as we were heading down :(
I thought it was over, but as I ran though the lower levers I kepped hearing loud thuds right above us, thinking it was just debris again, I continued out to the nearest exit. As I reached the outside I herd another loud explosion which drew my attention above me. I looked in horror as I realized the building I was just in was attacked by a plain also. I started to see A LOT more debris starting to fall around me and I ran light I've never ran before for a couple blocks until I had to stop to catch my breath. As I turned to see what was going on I realized what those thuds were as I saw people jumping out of the windows above all the flames and smoke. My heart sank more that I've ever felt it before. My feeling a relief at getting out turned to despair in a flash.
I decided that it was time to get the heck out of there before something else happened. Little did I know or even imagine that it would get worse, a lot worse. On my way back to my car (at 104th street) I caught a news cast of the buildings falling down. I finally made it home that evening, but wish I hadn't gone to work that day.
Like you I get really DISGUSTED when politician of any party use 9/11 for there ads to bash the other parties. There where WAY to many people killed that day, and way to may other people affected for me to even fathom that someone would use 9/11 in that way.
I feel for you, and I hope that you have a bright future. Take care.
Michelle Lee

i had just lost my mother and was very depressed.
my then lover's daughter called screaming we are being attacked you have get my mother!i call my then lover at work(at a hospital) and she said they were bringing in beds on every floor getting ready for the thousands than never came.
the phone lines went down and there wasnt a way to reach her. i live in brooklyn and the smoke filled the skies. as i watched in horror the towers came down and i knew no one would survive.
the smell and dust that came in through my windows made me put on the air conditioner. it was so strong and thick i got asthma for days.
my then lover finally reached me by cell and said she was trying to drive home . it took her almost 6 hours for what was a 25 minute drive. there were police everywhere even on my block where a jewish synague is located.
for weeks we saw lines of trucks filled with debris go by on their way to staten island to be examined. traffic would stop to watch this tragic procession . you could almost touch the respect and sadness in all observers.
for weeks we were shell shocked fearing more attacks.
everyone we knew knew people who worked in the towers.
there were memorials everywhere and on doors of families who lost a relative.
sadness tinged with american resolve and bravery
filled nyc.
i thought thank God my mother did not live to see this.

Kann leider wenig Englisch. Es tut mir sehr
leid für alle und ich hoffe sehr das die Hinterblieben einmal über ihren Verlust hinwegkommen.

Alles gute
von Mike

Thank you for sharing your powerful story Waymon and I thank God that you here today.