Fifteen years ago today, on September 9, 2001, Joseph and I were flying back to Tampa from El Paso, connecting thru O’Hare. (You take what you can get using frequent flyer miles, even back then.)
We had flown to El Paso so that we could see the Oregon State-New Mexico State football game. OSU won the game 27-22. (Go Beavers!!)
We had a great trip. Did lots of sight seeing. Ate some real Mexican food. But the most memorable part of the trip has always been the conversation that my 11 year old son and I had at thirty thousand feet after he came back from using the lavatory, somewhere between ELP and ORD.
The first words out of Joseph’s mouth as he sat down in his window seat were these: “Dad, would it be hard to hijack an airplane?”
The question came from out of nowhere, so I tossed it back at him. “Well what do you think Joseph? Do you think it would be hard?”
He boomeranged it back. “You fly all the time Dad. Every week. What do you think?”
I remember saying this: “I don’t think it would be all that hard. When we walked thru the metal detector we could’ve had plexiglass knives, or maybe even a short plexiglass machete, stuffed down our pants.”
He asked me if there were guns made of material that couldn’t be detected by the metal detector. I told him that I wasn’t sure, that there was a law prohibiting undetectable firearms….but that if you wanted to hijack a plane you wouldn’t care about that, or any other law.
Joseph asked, “But even if you snuck a bunch of those knives and machetes on this plane, how could you hijack it?”
“Suppose the door got stuck, that you were trapped inside and couldn’t have gotten out of the lavatory a few minutes ago. Do you think I could’ve broken in to help you?”
Joseph smiled at me and I said “Dad you coulda broken through that no problem. It would have been easy for you.”
“Yes, I could have. When we get off this plan in Chicago, take a look at the door to the cockpit. It’s about the same as the lavatory door. It would be a piece of cake to kick it in.”
Conversation over as quick as it started. He was back playing on his game boy, when he wasn’t looking out the window. I was back to reading my Newsweek. I don’t remember if either of us paid any attention to the cockpit doors as we walked off the plane. I do remember however that our connecting flight in Chicago was delayed a couple of hours.
I took the 5:30 am Delta flight out of Tampa the morning of September 11th, 2001. At 8:45 I was sitting in Grace Dietrich’s office in Virginia Beach prepping for our standing Tuesday morning 9 am call with the Andersen software development team in Sarasota. Just as the call started she scribbled a note and passed it to me: “A small plane crashed into the World Trade Center.”
A couple of minutes later I was upstairs with Rodney Thompson and his team. They had a TV in their graphics lab. We watched a 767 crash into the south tower. Live. It was NOT a small plane. It was surreal.
Flights were canceled for several days. I drove a rental car from Virginia Beach back to Tampa. Lots of “thinking time.”
Our house on Apple Ridge was in the TPA flight path, about 10 miles due north of the Tampa airport. For the next week the silence and the empty skies were eerie.
I’m pretty sure that I hadn’t had another thought about what Joseph and I had talked about only 48 hours earlier, when Grace passed me that note a few minutes before 9 on the morning of 9/11.
But I’ve thought about it 100s of times since.