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.
Maria Rayburn, JAA Police Officer
I was at JAX on my day off attending a JAA Human Diversity class when the entire classroom received pages (yes we had beepers!). We went to the TV and watched the second plane hit. Afterwards the Police Officers in the class were called out because the FAA shut the American Airspace.
We had a ton of diversions and were told to shut the airport down and empty the passengers.
With the awesome cooperation of the buses and taxies in Jacksonville, we were able to completely empty the airport in 3 hours.
Gloria Maree, IT Coordinator Administrator
I was working as the Business Development Administrative Assistant at the JAX Airport Terminal. While working in the conference room facing the television, I witnessed the first plane hit one of the Twin Towers in New York.
At first glance, I was confused and thought the picture was just a commercial; then the second plane hit the next Tower. Directly after the second tower was hit, JAX was placed on the highest alert and all exits and entrances to the airport were closed.
In the hours following the attacks, the atmosphere at the airport was very somber, quiet and almost deafening. Because the airport was on lock down, I along with all persons in the terminal stayed in our respective areas until airport Security and Police deemed it safe.
My most vivid memory of the day was trying to reach my Aunt who worked at the Pentagon and relatives that worked near the Towers in New York City.
Debbie Jones, Community Relations Administrator
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was visiting the engineering department as part of my position as training & development manager. While talking with one of the employees, someone told us that a plane crashed into the world trade center. The general feeling was it must have been a very incapacitated general aviation airplane that was way off track.
I made my way back to the main terminal building where, by that time, another aircraft flew into the second tower and it was evident that this was no accident.
Watching the horror unfold on the TV screen in our main operations area, the disbelief became conversation about what was going to happen next. Several of our senior managers, including the executive director, were in Canada attending an industry conference, so those who were left in charge were about to face a real crisis.
Before long we received the order that all aircraft were to land at the closest airport. I made my way to baggage claim knowing we would soon have a lot of passengers to take care of.
During the next 2-3 hours, over 30 plane-loads of people landed, got their luggage and were placed on buses to other Florida and Georgia cities where their flight either originated or was heading to. Lines formed at the rental car counters until all vehicles were gone.
In spite of not really knowing what was going on, people were calm. The distraction of getting bags and lining up for a bus overshadowed, however briefly, the unknown of what had happened and what was coming next.
Within 2-3 hours the last bus pulled away and all passengers were gone. Then all airport employees and tenants were instructed to leave the building so that the police and K-9 teams could sweep the entire airport terminal.
We were soon allowed back in to the deserted facility. The deafening quiet would last several days as no aircraft were allowed to fly.
My most vivid memory is of the crowd of people with stricken, worried faces, mechanically following directions. We were all in that state of limbo – between the world as it used to be and the uncertain future we were walking towards.