Waymon Hudson

9-11 Remembered: A Flight Attendant's Story

Filed By Waymon Hudson | September 11, 2009 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: 9/11, 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.

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Thank you for sharing your story, but I am not sure what your point is. That there should be no action in response to the attack? That the only acceptable response is to cry and wave to first responders?

Of course there was going to be a political discussion of 9-11. It was a politically motivated act of mass murder (Not a "tragedy," btw. A tsunami is a tragedy; this was intentional homicide.) It demanded a debate and a response. I personally think that the response has been the correct one, even if the implementation has left much to be desired.

I also thank you for sharing your story.

While I agree with Sharon that this was a terrorist act very different from a natural disaster your point is clear and well taken, as was hers.

Our leaders failed us.

Some used the terrorist attacks to challenge the patriotism of those who disagreed with their response. Others invoked the terror to justify all sorts of attacks on our rights and commitments to basic human rights.

We had the world on our side.

It was a game changing moment that could have allowed us to start redefining relations with many of our former and perceived adversaries. If our leaders had worked to build a real global coalition of the willing (nearly everybody at that time) (as Bush Sr. did after Iraq invaded Kuwait) instead of using the attacks as a pretext for their prior intent to take out Sudam ... we would be in a much better place today.

Instead, we lost or strained relations with many of our natural allies.

If we had engaged with the middle-Eastern, Muslim world with half the funds and effort we spent on our Wars, we could have won hearts and minds and saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives.

We might not have engineered working democracies in either Iraq or Afghanistan. But neither are close today and who were we to go in there and nation build? And why did we allow our leaders to compromise our basic standards of justice or our global leadership?

Your story is a poignant reminder of the fear, loss, anger, and sense of unity we shared as a nation eight years ago. Where is that unity now?

Obama has his Vietnam ... let's just hope he handles it better than Johnson and all who followed.

Waymon, thank you for your vivid memory. Besides mourning lost firefighters, office workers and airline crews, we should be asking whether our govt's response these past 8 years has been effective. We changed regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, at a cost of 4,000+ U.S. lives and tens of thousands of others, but is the United States any safer? (Or, more to the point, do we have any more oil?) We have spent many billions on the Homeland Security bureaucracy, and a trillion or so on overseas wars. Let's see if Obama will bring change we-can-believe-in or just more Bush-type folly.

Reply to Tom Brown:

"We changed regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, at a cost of 4,000+ U.S. lives and tens of thousands of others, but is the United States any safer?"

With respect to Afghanistan, obviously yes. Al Qaeda had the full run of the country and its government and was training thousands of fighters a year and dispatching terrorist cells to Europe and North America. While not everything has been done properly there, Al Qaeda now lives precariously in a strip of no-man's land on the Afghan-Pakistan border and is under constant seige from both the coalition and Pakistan. We haven't been attacked here since 9/11. So the answer to your question is "yes, we are safer".

(Or, more to the point, do we have any more oil?)"

I don't know why this is more to the point. Afghanistan doesn't have any oil and we didn't send troops to Afghanistan to gain non-existent Afghan oil. In Iraq, which you unfairly lump in with Afghanistan, we pledged not to take a single barrel of oil from the country and we haven't. Iraqi oil production is at about the same level as it was prewar and the government there sells it on the open market.

Fortunately, Obama is ending the Iraq operation and is continuing and improving the Afghan operation. That is exactly the right course.

I love it that you post this every year, Waymon. It's an inside glimpse of 9/11 that most people never see.

I love this story. I think the point of the story is.... the story. How could a person not be affected by living through this event, especially when you know it could have been you? Thank you Wayne.


Thanks for sharing your story, even though I'm sure it brought back terrible memories for many of us, myself included. It serves to make us take a moment to remember all whose lives were taken. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was on the phone with my Mother, who was in a panic because my cousin, nephew and friends of ours worked at the WTC. Just as I was trying to calm her down, assuring her they both worked in the other Tower. The second plane hit the South Tower, to this day I can still hear her screaming into the phone. It took a few days until we learned they both survived, but, we lost some dear friends that day.

As a Memorial and Tribute to them and all whose lives were taken on 9/11 I dedicated three pages of my web site to them. One page is in dedication to our Gay Brothers, Sisters and Friends. I haven't edited or updated them since I first created them, it's still to difficult.
If anyone is interested in viewing them here are the links:
Atrocity Against America: http://www.tampabaycoalition.com/wtc.html
A Day of Prayer and Remembrance World Wide: http://www.tampabaycoalition.com/wtc.html
Tribute to Our Gay Brothers, Sisters & Friends

May they all R.I.P.

My Partner lost his cousin who was a New York City
firefighter during 9-11 at the Marriott World Trade Center as he was attempting to save lives.