Some of the unsung events of 9/11 that didn't make it onto the front page

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

The flaming twin towers of the World Trade Center against a crystal-blue September sky a decade ago today is seared into memory for most of us, but there are a few things about 9/11 that many of us know little about. How about tens of thousands of U.S.-bound airline passengers stranded in Canada after the FAA shut down U.S. airspace?

How about a couple of fighter pilots who took off from Andrews Air Force Base near Washington in unarmed F-16 jet fighters just after the first attacks, with intent to ram United Airlines Flight 93 -- a hijacked passenger jetliner heading for the nation's capital?

Well, I didn't know about all that stuff, either, until just a few days ago.

The morning of 11 Sept. 2001, Lt. Heather "Lucky" Penney of 121st Fighter Squadron in the D.C. Air National Guard and Col. Marc Sasseville were at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., after completing some flight training in Nevada. After hearing of terrorist planes crashing into the twin towers and the Pentagon, the two pilots sprinted to their aircraft.

The F-16s didn't have bullets or missiles, and there was no time to arm them. Hijacked aircraft, including United 93, were reported to be heading toward Washington, and they had to prevent them from hitting the Capitol, the White House, or any other civilian targets. Without weapons they had only one thing to do: crash their fighter jets kamikaze-style into the approaching United 93 to prevent it from reaching Washington.

Sasseville would go for the hijacked Boeing 757's cockpit, and Penney would go for the tail. As it turns out, they didn't have to make such an attack, which almost certainly would have cost them their lives. The passengers of United 93 did that when they tried taking the aircraft back from the terrorists, and the jetliner went down near Shanksville, Pa.

Now think about all the aircraft heading to the U.S. from Europe and Asia the morning of the September 11 attacks. An hour after the first airplane crashed into the World Trade Center, the FAA closed U.S. airspace.

At the time 255 passenger aircraft were heading towards the U.S. and didn't have the option of turning back. So what did they do?

They flew to Canada, and not to major airports in Ottawa, Toronto, or Montreal, That was considered to be too risky. Instead, they flew to airports in Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, from where passengers had to wait until they could make other travel arrangements.

The airport in Gander, Newfoundland, for example, took in 39 widebody jetliners and 6,600 passengers. Now consider that the town of Gander has fewer than 10,000 residents. Taking care of all those passengers was a monumental task.

Yet it was just one of the monumental tasks that Americans, Canadians, and many others had to do that day 10 years ago. There were little things and big things that people did. All of them are worth remembering today.

Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account.

Previous Blog Posts

Capital Hill budget deal could restore tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon

Tue Dec 17 13:15:00 CST 2013

Hacker drone story a cautionary tale about the need for unmanned vehicle data security

Tue Dec 10 09:46:00 CST 2013

Lack of money for systems upgrades threatens to maintain wind-farm radar dead spots

Tue Dec 03 10:36:00 CST 2013

Engineering support contracts indicate the Pentagon is sinking into the Mothball Strategy

Tue Nov 26 06:57:00 CST 2013

The revenge of COTS: an ageing commercial technology base complicates military supply chain

Tue Nov 19 08:53:00 CST 2013

Navy's newest destroyers evolve to fill traditional battleship roles

Tue Nov 12 11:54:00 CST 2013

International suspicions of U.S. encryption technology putting defense companies in a bind

Tue Nov 05 11:24:00 CST 2013

Defense industry left guessing as Army struggles forward with an unclear mission

Tue Oct 29 09:45:00 CDT 2013

These are tough times for the combat vehicle and vetronics industries

Tue Oct 22 04:22:00 CDT 2013

Is the government shutdown a harbinger of more ominous things to come?

Tue Oct 15 11:21:00 CDT 2013

Government shutdown reduces military contracting, increasing pressure on U.S. defense industry

Mon Oct 07 12:17:00 CDT 2013

Potential good news: has U.S. defense spending finally bottomed-out?

Tue Oct 01 13:02:00 CDT 2013

Is robotics revolution the first glimpse of a fundamental change in human evolution?

Tue Sep 24 09:46:00 CDT 2013

Obsolescent parts: are we enhancing military readiness or creating a hollow force?

Tue Sep 17 15:46:00 CDT 2013

For the high-tech warfighter, the future of electronics-laden uniforms is here

Tue Sep 10 11:26:00 CDT 2013

New generation of embedded computing thermal management in development at GE

Tue Sep 03 09:44:00 CDT 2013

Trading bus stops for credit cards: how far embedded computing has come in three decades

Tue Aug 27 10:59:00 CDT 2013

Unmanned vehicle industry stands at the doorstep of a fundamental transformation

Tue Aug 20 11:09:00 CDT 2013

AUVSI 2013, one of the biggest unmanned vehicles shows in the world, opens this week in Washington

Tue Aug 13 05:35:00 CDT 2013

The Washington Post, under Jeff Bezos, could lead the way for media in the 21st Century

Tue Aug 06 09:47:00 CDT 2013

Are costs and vulnerabilities making military leaders nervous about satellite communications?

Tue Jul 30 11:07:00 CDT 2013

Unmanned aircraft carrier that travels beneath the waves may be in the Navy's future

Tue Jul 23 05:20:00 CDT 2013

Electronic warfare programs kick into high gear with a flurry of contract activity

Tue Jul 16 08:03:00 CDT 2013

How vulnerable are U.S. Navy vessels to advanced anti-ship cruise missiles?

Tue Jul 09 07:03:00 CDT 2013

First came VHSIC, then came MIMIC, and now comes ACE to push electronics technology

Tue Jul 02 09:16:00 CDT 2013

The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
file

All Access Sponsors


Download Our Apps



iPhone

iPad

Android

Connect with Us



Newsletters

Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information
SUBSCRIBE

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers
SUBSCRIBE

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications
SUBSCRIBE

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles
SUBSCRIBE