By Wayne Kreutner: I was returning to Cedar Rapids from a weekend visit to my kids’ homes in Kansas City, Mo. As an airline employee, I was, of course, flying instead of driving. I remember commenting to my son, who owned a 4-inch Buck knife, that “a knife this big is allowed on commercial airline flights.”
I got to the airport, and the flight took to the air about 7:45 a.m. We flew to Chicago O’Hare airport uneventfully. I remember thinking about how I had only 30 minutes to make my connection to the Cedar Rapids flight and was relieved when we landed 15 minutes early, thinking, “Great, I won’t have to run from gate to gate.”
As we were taxiing to the gate, one of the passengers in a seat a couple of rows behind me had called his wife from his cellphone, and after talking to her, commented to us around him, “You’re not going to believe this, but some crazy just dive-bombed the World Trade Center.”
People around me were surprised but even more surprised when the plane I was on pulled into a holding area, and the pilot’s voice announced over the PA that, although we arrived early, there wasn’t a gate for us to park at and unload passengers, so we’d have to wait a few minutes.
Then a minute or two later, the pilot’s voice again announced that he had been advised by air traffic control that we would be sitting there for an hour or two! Also, he said that there was an emergency going on, so they would make available WLS radio for us to listen to on Channel 9 of the aircraft entertainment system.
We then heard more of the unfolding story. I remember hearing that an airplane over Pennsylvania was not responding to air traffic control instructions. That turned out to be United 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.
After about an hour and a half of holding on the tarmac, the pilot advised us that we had been given a place to taxi to, so passengers could be unloaded into the terminal. We then taxiied to an area between a 747 and a 777. Since we were on a 727, we fit in under the wings of these and were allowed to deplane down the rear steps and were escorted into the terminal.
At that point we were told, basically, you’re on your own. I was eventually able to rent a car in Chicago to drive back to Cedar Rapids (which had to be returned to Chicago within three days). I drove home and arrived at approximately 7 p.m., listening to the radio about the terror attacks all the way home.
I realized that one of the airplanes had hit the World Trade Center about the time my flight had taken off from Kansas City. The knife that I had commented about the day before was similar to the weapon used by the terrorists to take over the aircraft and kill their victims.
A long day, and one I’ll never forget.