Today we remember the lives that were lost on September 11th, 2001 in New York City, Shanksville, PA and at the Pentagon. #NeverForget
On September 10th, 2011 I boarded a flight at New York’s JFK international airport travelling to San Francisco, CA. At that time, I was working on one of my favorite projects for A&E, produced by LMNO Productions; Behind Closed Doors with Joan Lunden. For this episode, I would take to the heights, literally, of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fran. I couldn’t wait.
Unfortunately, after boarding, a bad weather front hit the area and we were temporarily grounded. What’s worse? It was one of those situations where the airline “kindly” boarded us all, and we sat on the runway for almost two hours.
Some of the passengers became wary of continuing to wait it out and demanded to get off the plane. Finally, the flight attendants made an announcement; any passengers who wished to get off the plane would be booked on the next flight leaving JFK at 8 am the following morning. The doors opened, and a few passengers began to filter out. Little did we know, that next flight would be the one headed for the twin towers the next day.
As I sat on board with four members of our Behind Closed Doors TV crew, I never considered switching to the next flight. We were slated to continue onto Southern California to do a piece on the U.S. Missle system and I didn’t want to mess up the production schedule. Not to mention, I would be the first civilian to be able to push a button and launch a missle! I didn’t want to miss it.
The hair dresser who had been hired for the trip had never a been a good flyer. She approached me, asking if she could take the earlier flight out the next day. I told her that flight really wouldn't work since I would already be on the bridge shooting before she would land. Finally, we took off and landed very late in San Francisco and agreed to push our “start time” back for the next morning.
The next morning I was awakened by someone pounding on my hotel room door. It was my assistant. She ran into the room and turned on the TV. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. As we watched the story unfold in New York, we saw the American Airlines Flight 175 strike the South tower. My hairdresser sat next to me stunned…with tears steaming down her face she said “if you had let me get off the plane and rebook I would have been on that flight”.
We contemplated our schedule for the day – could we still proceed with our Bridge Walk on the Golden Gate Bridge? Nervously, we collected our things and headed to meet the crew. Shortly after beginning the shoot, the FBI arrived on the bridge and made us stop; we were standing on grounds that were on the short list of places the terrorists may hit next. No one really knew for sure if we should expect another act to occur, but they were not taking any chances.
Needless to say my U.S. Missile story got cancelled – they weren’t about to let me launch a missile at that critical point in time. I spent over 48 hours in San Francisco, most of that time in the Airport with all commercial flights being grounded. I finally got a harebrained idea and called a private jet company I knew about called Avitat to inquire if they had any planes still in the air. Low and behold private jets were still flying and we could get one in an hour! It was a terribly expensive flight but I happened to be sitting in the Admirals Club, a first class lounge; I decided to ask if anyone wanted to share in on the cost for this 12 passenger jet. I literally had people fighting over the seats. The flight flew overnight from California to New York, landing at Westchester Airport.
When those wheels touched down on the tarmac, I couldn’t believe we had made it. All of us looked around, clearly counting our blessings, being forever grateful that we could return home and hug our loved ones. I will never forget that day.