Remembering the day that forever changed aviation – Part 3

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This permanent display is located in security checkpoint so that we may “NEVER FORGET”

Nearly every generation has “one event” which not only left unforgettable memories of where people were and what they were doing when it happened, but was a pivotal time in our collective history. September 11, 2001, is that event for our generation.

Fifteen years ago, our nation suffered an inconceivable horror on our own front doorstep. The consequences of those events will have lasting impact on not only our generation, but generations to come.

We sat down with several current and former Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) employees who worked at one of our four airports on that fateful day, and will post their stories throughout this week.

Here’s how September 11, 2001, is remembered, in their own words.

Rusty Chandler currently manages the Jacksonville Aviation Authority’s (JAA) three general aviation airports. On September 11, 2001, however, he was beginning his first day on the job as the Manager of Craig Airport (now Jacksonville Executive at Craig). It’s a first day of work he will never forget.

Prior to accepting the position at Craig, Chandler juggled several others at the Authority, including facilitating the split between JAXPORT and the Aviation Authority, and as the Airside Operations Supervisor at Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) where he was responsible for emergency planning and training.

The morning of 9/11, he was settling into his new airport office, reviewing stacks of paperwork from the previous airport manager when he got a phone call from the Fire Chief at JAX.

“He told me a commercial aircraft just flew into a building in New York City,” Chandler’s said. “I went back to my 20 years in the Navy as an aircraft controller and just thought there was no way that was possible.

That’s when he turned on the television, saw the second plane fly into the building and knew, “That is intentional.”

With his emergency planning and training background, Chandler’s first instinct was to rush to JAX. “Just a day before I had been the emergency guy,” he said. “I called our Comms Center and they informed me that the FAA had grounded everyone and we had planes diverting to JAX.”

He hopped in his vehicle, to begin the 20-minute drive when he got a call. It was the JAX Comms Center informing him about a crash at Craig Airport. His airport.

So he rushed back. Fortunately, it was only a blown tire. But he learned his lesson – to stay put at Craig should anything else transpire. But nothing did. Chandler describes the rest of the day as “amazingly, stunningly quiet.”

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Kelly Dollarhide, Cecil Airport Manager, was a Navy air traffic controller at NAS Oceana on September 11th. She kept these ‘flight strips’ from that morning, which went out to air traffic control towers across the nation.

Later that afternoon he went up to the Air Traffic Control Tower and sat with the controllers there, some whom he had served with in the Navy and knew well. As the tower manager called him to look at the radar scope (which tracks aircraft) she said, “I’ve never seen the sky without planes.”

“I looked at the screen and there was one transponder code, one target, on there,” Chandler said. It was the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) helicopter patrolling the city.
That’s what he recalls so vividly about that day. “You’ve got to remember, I was a controller who looked at a radar scope, searched 200 miles and saw thousands of aircraft,” he said. “To not see any? That to my mind, was incredible.”

The other thing that stood out to him? “The sharp realization that everything was about to change.”

Read more about General Aviation’s post 9/11 struggle to take off

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