Waymon Hudson

9-11 Remembered: A Flight Attendant's Story

Filed By Waymon Hudson | September 11, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics, Politics
Tags: 9/11, ground zero, Mosque, September 11

Author's Note: I was asked to repost my first hand recollection of September 11th again this year. I think it's important that we remember what happened and how we came together as individuals and as a nation, especially in light of the recent abhorrent and repugnant bigotry, divisions, and fear that many have stoked in the name of scoring political points during an election year.

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 religious freedoms and rights. Even more disgusting is seeing it used to attack Muslim Americans, who were also attacked and killed that day, or play into the fears and anger of people personally affected by the attacks in New York City and around the country.

I still get chills when I think about that day and the friends I lost. But this year there is a new and fresh emotion: Anger. From the ridiculous hate-based "controversy" over building the Park 51 Islamic Center in lower Manhattan to elevating the insane ramblings of a fringe pastor in Gainesville, Florida who wants to burn the Koran, it seems that politicians and fear-mongers from all sides are taking what was a dark day for our country and cheapening it for their own gains.

Rachel Maddow hits my feelings dead-on in her segment "Exploiting 9/11 for Fear and Profit":

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That was probably the single most significant day in my life, and I can imagine it was ever more so for you. I actually quit my broadcast journalism program at CMU partially because I skipped class to watch the news that day and a professor marked me down. To be quite frank, I was already on my way into education at that point--after (ironically) print journalism turned me off--but that was another nail in the coffin for my short stint in journalism school.

More than just changing my major, that day changed my perspective. I had always wanted to be a journalist, suddenly, I just wanted to know EVERYTHING. I became a voracious consumer of news, information, books, magazines, internet, blogs--ANYTHING. 24/7. I had always been informed, suddenly I was like a current events monster.

It also moved me SHARPLY to the left. Not that I wasn't already a leftie (I had voted for Nader in 2000... don't blame me, though, Gore won Michigan, so my vote had nothing to do with what happened); but I was from Detroit. Detroit has the largest population of Arab and Middle Eastern folk outside of the Middle East. Good friends and neighbors--God fearing, country-loving Americans.

The disgusting ignorance and bigotry I saw around me after September 11 galvanized me to become what I am today. I wanted to fight backward thinking and foster understanding every moment I was awake.

I also remember how polarizing the days after that was. One felt compelled to take strong stands where there had been nothing to take stands on before. I was writing a lot of poetry around then. A lot of it had to do with the turning tide in America. I was watching my country turn into something it had never been before.

Finally, however, that day and the days after, I remember seeing this incredible theater of dynamic and flourishing humanity playing out like I had never seen before. Throughout the 90s, we lived good lives, but we were coasting. Now, suddenly, everyone was alive and awake and aware. We had been reminded that this all could be taken from us in an instant. We had all of these harrowing images indelibly burned into our minds--I will never forget what it looks like watching people leap to their deaths live on a giant 50 inch television. Or what it looks like when a tower implodes from the center.

I'll also never forget what it looks like when two grown straight men embrace one another to comfort them, or what people will do for one another in a time of need, that the urge to help is sometimes stronger than the urge to just survive.

I definitely felt my eyes opened on that day, that's for sure.

Okay, that's my last comment for the night, that took a lot, and I need to shut this computer down and breath for a while.

Thank you so much for posting this, Waymon.

Thanks for sharing this and for opening up with such personal feelings - I'm sure you'll carry this with you your whole life.

Your example of embracing this horrible moment and having it positively change you is a real example of how love, hope and courage can concur hate and bigotry.

Thanks Waymon.