This was posted on www.flyertalk.com
The writer was listening to Channel 9 on his United flight. That's Pilot to ATC communication.
This is his post...
On 9/11, I was listening to Ch. 9. I was on a flight out of ORD to AZ (757) seated in 5F. We had just taken off and where climbing to cruise. A flight out of Rockford, IL was squeezing between us and the UA in front of us. I watched as he lined up to get on the highway westbound. Then, abruptly, the Rockford flight called ATC and requested immediate clearance to return to home. ATC responded with some quick direction and asked if they were experiencing trouble. No, just directed to return home by company pronto. Hmmm, strange I thought.
Then the UA in front of us requested emergency clearance back to ORD. Loooong pause from ATC. Now, this is Chicago Center air space. There are no pauses. Certainly not 30-40 seconds of dead air. Hmm, man that is weird, I thought. Then like a starters pistol went off, the comm light up. Another plane req. clearance, then another, another.... boom, boom, boom. Nothing from ATC. I nudged the guy next to me and said put on Ch. 9. He could see by the expression on my face, I was serious.
ATC got on the air and started by saying this was going to go quick and pilots needed to listen up. "Protocol responses are not required, just do exactly as I say quickly". Then it began. "UA ###, turn right heading blah, blah expect Springfield airport. SWA ###, turn left heading blah, blah expect Rockford. Delta ###...." This went on for about 3 solid minutes before I rang the bell for the FA who was passing out breakfast. Our number had not yet been called. The FA came by and I said "We are all going back to O'Hare, they are landing every plane in the sky. What is going on?!?" She looked at me in disbelief and kind of leaned down to look out the window. I could see that she was about to start to tell me not to worry about it when we pitched right at about 45*s. It was so quick it nearly dumped the FA in my lap.
Her expression changed quickly. I could see she knew that was no turn you make in a 757 under normal conditions. She said, I will be right back and picked up the comm. She went flush. Not saying a word, not "ok", not "goodbye", not "I understand"... nothing, she hung up the phone. I don't know why I remember that she did not respond so vividly in my mind but it took the whole thing up a notch for me. I knew she thought this was very serious and was scared. She walked right back to me, scooped up my tray and said in a voice full of authority, "Pull up your chair, put away your tray table and buckle up, now. We are landing in a few minutes. The pilot will be on with more instructions in a few minutes." I was frozen. In the ten steps it took her to get from the phone to me, her whole demeanor changed from shocked to pissed.
By this time, ATC comm on ch. 9 had been cut off. We were pitching left and right, then right and left and descending fast. It was about 5 minutes before the pilot came on and said "Ladies and gentlemen, please listen very carefully, We have been instructed by the FAA to land immediately. There has been a security breach in the system and we will be on the ground in Chicago in a few minutes. Listen carefully to the FAs instructions and do as they as say please." click. Huh!?! Instructed by the FAA? Not ATC... FAA!! Whaaa?!? Security breach in "the system"? What does that mean? Did some guy run through the check point at the airport? Now, I was scared.
A couple more minutes of quick turns and fast drops go by. The pilot (a woman, I don't know why I mention that but I remember it clearly) comes back on the comm. "This is the captain. We will be landing quickly in Des Moines, IA. Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin." click. Hard turn right, hard turn left... the FAs are barking out instructions on the comm. Now I can see planes everywhere around us. There had to be a dozen so close I could tell the company clearly. I could discern the 7-5s from the 7-3s, the AB320s from the 319s.
We were at about 8 thousand by now. It was less than 3 minutes since we last heard from the pilot and she was on again. "This is the captain. We will be landing at the Quad Cities airport in 4 minutes. When we land we have been instructed not to approach the terminal. Please remain calm and we will back with instructions as soon as possible." click. Now I could hear a woman crying a few rows behind me.
Our last turn to hit the glide path was so sharp I could see the corn rows in the fields below. There was a SWA 7-3 easily within a mile and a half behind us as we fish tailed, it seemed, into runway alignment. Gears go down way late. We are going much faster than a normal approach. 2k now.... 1500, 1... touchdown... hard. Heavy brakes for a good bit then they release and we roll all the way down to the end and turn right toward the terminal. I look back down the runway and the SWA 7-3 is about 500yrds off the end of the runway. This would have been a "go around" under normal circumstances. Behind Southwest, they are stacked up on a string. 8-10 planes maybe... boom, boom, boom. Big ones too.
"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" I hear a voice behind me. I turn, it's a man on his cell. 'Two planes hit the WTC. They are on fire...both buildings." We are in the terminal in a flash it seemed. I made a few calls and went to the rental counter and secured a car (a fire engine red, Dodge minivan) before I sat in this tiny airport and watch TV for about 4 hours. By the time I decided to go back to Chicago, the rental counters were chaos. I slowly made my way through the crowd announcing rides were available back to ORD for any takers, follow me out. Outside I turned around to see I had five takers, 2 men, 3 women. One was a UA FA. We barely spoke a word the whole way back. I don't even remember any of their names. ORD was closed and I dropped ‘em off one by one at various places around the city. Then home for me. I'll never forget where I was or that Ch. 9 was a part of it. I still have the stub from the flight. UA 1969, ORD to Phoenix, seat 5F.