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September 9, 2011 posted by Lindsay Ferrier

I Remember

I Remember

I was getting ready for work when Dennis called me from the airport.

“You won’t believe this,” he said. “I just watched a jet crash into the World Trade Center on live television.”

“What?” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“I was watching the Today show and they have live coverage of a plane that crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said, “and they were showing the towers, and while I was watching, another plane flew right into the other tower, on live television. They think it might be a terrorist attack.”

“Oh my gosh,” I said. My brain was having trouble comprehending the magnitude of what he was saying. “That’s crazy!”

“I know,” he said. “I’ve gotta go. My flight’s boarding now.”

“Okay, have a safe trip,” I said. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

We hung up and I turned on the television and then continued getting ready for work, in the way that you continue on autopilot as your mind mulls over the impossible. Seeing the sober, frightened faces of Matt Lauer and Katie Couric and the live video of the World Trade Center suddenly jolted my comprehension.

I needed to get to the station.

I grabbed my things, hurried to the car, and turned on the radio. Suspected terrorist attack. Planes being used as bombs. All flights halted. Dozens of flights still in the air.

Dozens of flights still in the air.

Quickly, I called Dennis’s cell phone. There was no answer.

The station beeped in on my phone and I took the call.

“We need you to head downtown and be ready to go live as soon as possible,” they said. “All government buildings are evacuating until they can account for every plane that’s still in the air.” I gulped. “Okay,” I said. “I’m headed that way now.”

I was strangely calm. This couldn’t really be happening. It had to be some sort of mistake. There was a rational explanation for everything. Dennis was fine. Everything would be fine. It had to be fine. Every few minutes, I’d feel panic rise in the back of my throat as I drove. I pushed it back down. I struggled to put my mind in work mode. I had to go on the air soon. I had to keep it together. I tried calling Dennis again. No answer.

I had to stay calm.

Downtown, a quiet stream of workers filed out of Nashville’s tallest buildings and headed for the buses and parking decks. They looked like I felt. Worried. Bewildered. Confused. Many of them tried to make phone calls on their cell phones, but the lines were jammed. I found my station’s live truck and stood in front of the camera out on the sidewalk. It was a beautiful morning. The air was crisp, the sky impossibly blue.

This couldn’t be happening.

“Where’s Dennis right now?” the photographer asked me.

“He’s on a plane,” I said. “He has the day off.”

“Are you serious?”

“He’s fine,” I said shortly, and took out my cell phone, trying to call him again. The call wouldn’t go through.

Dammit,” I said to myself. I put in my earpiece and tuned in NBC, watching the live coverage  on the tiny monitor that the photographer had set up in front of me.

As I watched, the towers fell. First one, and then a few minutes later, the other. Around me, I heard a few screams and sobs from the workers on the sidewalk who were getting the information on their phones and radios.

I had to stay calm.

All morning long, I reported the latest from a downtown street that quickly became deserted as people scurried to get as far away from Nashville’s tallest buildings as possible. In between my reports, I listened to national news. Twelve planes were still in the air, unaccounted for. Then ten. Then six. I kept periodically trying Dennis’s cell phone. There was no answer.

I had to stay calm.

Finally, two hours in, Dennis called. I fought back tears at the sound of his voice. His plane had taxied out onto the runway before the pilot got the call to wait there until further notice. They sat on the runway for a long time, before turning the plane around and heading back to the airport. He hadn’t been able to reach me on his phone.

He was okay.

And now, with all of Nashville and the surrounding area glued to their televisions, trying to comprehend what was happening, we both had work to do.

I returned to a chaotic newsroom, where the entire staff was struggling to sort through the massive amounts of information coming in and decide what to put on the air. Sitting down at my desk, I began sorting through the calls taken by newsroom assistants and interns. One in particular stood out. A Vanderbilt doctor had called in, saying his best friend from college was on the flight that had crashed a few hours earlier in Pennsylvania. The doctor had just talked to his friend’s wife and she told him she’d had one last conversation with her husband on his phone while the plane was still in the air.

I called the doctor. He invited me to come over to his house and said he’d be willing to do an interview.

At his house, the doctor and his wife were poring over photos of his friend, Jeremy Glick, and Jeremy’s wife and daughter. They had cued up their wedding video for me to the part where Jeremy, one of the groomsmen, walked grinning up the aisle after the vows had been exchanged. Jeremy’s wife told the doctor that her husband had called her from the flight after the terrorists took over the plane. She told him that two jets had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. He said, “We’re going to rush the hijackers.” Those were the last words she ever heard from him.

“Unbelievable,” I said softly. “That must be why the plane went down in Pennsylvania. They must have fought the hijackers.”

“That’s why I wanted to do this interview,” the doctor said. “I want everyone to know that my friend Jeremy and those other passengers were heroes. Who knows how many lives they saved?”

I was told this story by the Vanderbilt doctor only a couple of hours after it had actually happened. There was no official word on why that flight had gone down in Pennsylvania, and I’m pretty sure I was the first member of the  media to have heard the story. I had no way of verifying whether it was true.

But sometimes, you go with your gut. I believed the doctor’s story, with all my heart. I went back to the station with photos and the wedding video, and put together a story for the six o’clock news about Jeremy Glick and the heroic passengers of Flight 93.

Once I’d reported that story, I went back out, to a hotel this time, where an American Airlines flight attendant had agreed to talk to me about her co-workers who had died on the hijacked flights. It was an emotional interview– like the doctor, she wanted people to know that her flight attendant friends and colleagues were professionals who loved their jobs. She was sure they had done everything they could right up to the end. Later accounts would prove she was right. Again, I returned to the station and wrote her story, then reported it on the 10:00 news.

The newscast ended and the day was finally done. But Dennis and I didn’t want to go home. I had been so busy working and so committed to keeping my emotions at bay and getting those stories on the air that I hadn’t had a chance to process what had happened. So instead, we went to a nearby sports bar, which was still packed with people watching coverage of the day’s events on the big-screen televisions.

I ordered a vodka tonic and stared, horrified, at the scenes of dust-covered New Yorkers fleeing the falling buildings in terror, of injured employees stumbling out of the Pentagon, of a blackened field in Pennsylvania, of face after face appearing on the screen, registering the emotions that every single one of us had experienced in the last 15 hours. Shock. Fear. Grief. Horror.

And for the first time on what must be America’s darkest day, I cried.

 

Image via Michael Foran/Flickr

  • Bren

    It is a day that still brings me to tears.  I started watching the coverage right after the first plane hit and didn’t stop until probably 10pm that night.  I think I talked to every member of my family that morning since I was traveling a lot back then – mostly to and from Boston and they all called me frantically to make sure I was ok.  It is a memory that will forever be etched into my brain.

    • Anonymous

      I think most of us will feel like it was “just yesterday” for a long time. I can’t believe it’s been ten years.

  • http://gingersnaps.wordpress.com Ginger

    Wow. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.  I think I held my breath as I read the entire post. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1299851424 Buffi Helton Messer

    Oh, Lindsay. I can’t imagine having to keep my emotions in check and report on camera as the horror of the day unfolded. Especially when you didn’t even know what was happening with your husband. We lived in England then & my FIL was flying back that day. He was rerouted to Nova Scotia, I think & had to stay there for nearly a week. Crazy scary.

    • Anonymous

      Wow, that would be doubly hard seeing the news and being so far away, I think. 

  • Mel

    I worked for a media company at the time. We had a wall of 28 televisions that monitored stations from around the world as well as some shopping/infomercial channels. It was odd to see all of the stations slowly switch to coverage of the attacks. The shopping channels went to a blue screen with a note that programming was canceled due to the events of the day. Finally, after seeing every channel switch to coverage, we turned off all except one television. We just couldn’t see it over and over again. But the image of all of those tv’s will always be stuck in my head.

    I also had a trip planned to DC that weekend. We ended up driving and seeing the Pentagon. Chilling doesn’t even begin to describe it.

    • Anonymous

      The Pentagon often gets overshadowed in coverage, but to me it was a very big deal. I mean, it was THE PENTAGON. Unbreachable.

      • Mel

        I agree. Here’s a picture I took that day. It was really an accident, we were driving by and I was looking through the lens. I didn’t see the flag until I snapped the pic. You can see the hole in the Pentagon just behind the flag.

        • Anonymous

          Wow- Amazing shot!!

  • Anonymous

    What made it worse for me is that just a few minutes after the second tower was hit, I had to leave with my 10 month old daughter to provide daycare for the kids next door.  Because the oldest would notice the tv, I couldn’t have the tv or radio on for the next five hours until all the kids were napping.  I had to rely on my husband calling me with updates until I could turn on the tv.  It made me feel even worse that I had no idea what was going on.  (Of course, the days before smart phones, so I couldn’t even check the internet at their house)

    • Anonymous

      Wow. That would have been tough. I heard many teachers talk about that later- that they were all desperate for news, yet they couldn’t talk about it in front of the kids. 

  • Jenna

    I made a promise to myself that I would stay away from the media on Sunday. Instead, I am going to church to pray. It’s all I can do to stay okay.

    Jenna
    momofmanyhats.blogspot.com

    • Anonymous

      That’s definitely a good idea. :) Good for you.

  • Jen

    i was teaching first grade and my then boyfriend (now husband) was an airline pilot.  the janitor came to tell me.  i eventually got through to my now husband on his cell phone.  most of the children’s parents came to pick them up.  i lived in pa then not too far from where the plane went down. it was awful trying to explain what happened to the kids but not tell them too much- i felt that was their parents job.  but i couldn’t tell them nothing because they saw all their schoolmates going home and all of the staff so upset.  

    • Anonymous

      I felt particularly bad for children during that time. I can’t even imagine that happening when I was a child. Even as an adult, I think it shook me up so much because I had always imagined that we were “safe” here in the US from major attacks by other countries- that it couldn’t happen.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    Thank you for sharing your recollection of that day.  Powerful and well written.

    • Anonymous

       Thanks Leigh!

  • Anonymous

    I was teaching a class of high school students when the principal came to the door and drew me into the hallway.  He told me what was happening.  We took the students to the auditorium to watch the news reports on TV.  Our school is K-12, so I immediately got my 6- and 8-year-old sons from their classrooms, then began trying to call parents to come get their kids.  It took us hours to get through to all the parents because the phone lines were jammed.  I also couldn’t get through to my husband, which was particularly scary because he works at a nuclear power plant, which is considered a terrorist target.

    When I explained to my young sons what was happening, they both immediately wanted to join the military and go fight the bad guys.  I told them they had to be 18 and have their mommy’s permission.

    • Anonymous

      So sweet! My older girls didn’t seem to be too affected by it- Honestly, they had so much going on in their personal lives at that time that I think it was all they could handle. And I remember being so glad when my little ones were born that they would (hopefully) never know what a day like that was like.

  • Elisa Camahort Page

    Wow, Lindsay. That’s what I keep saying as I read all these remembrances. Wow. Each person’s story is so vivid. Each blogger I read…it’s like their writing just takes it to another level to try to capture what it was like. For each of us, no matter where we were. Thank you for sharing this story. Thank you for staying calm and bringing those stories to people who were desperate for any word, anything to hold on to.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you, Elisa!

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