Middletown, New Jersey —
“We don’t care who you are, what you are, get your aircraft to the ground — there are aircraft on a search-and-destroy mission.”
According to Captain Dale Andrew, that message from air traffic control on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, was one the scariest things he’s ever heard over the radio in his years as a pilot.
Andrew has spent thousands of hours in the sky during the 34 years and 10 months he’s been flying — first as a pilot for Continental Airlines, then later for United. Andrew was flying one of the 3,499 commercial airlines in the sky on 9/11, and has never forgotten the experience.
His flight was en route from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Newark, New Jersey, that clear morning, and he began to hear chatter about a problem as he flew over North Carolina.
“We know that that’s not an accident,” Andrew recalled thinking when he heard two planes had flown into the World Trade Center.
Once we got on the ground and saw what had happened, it was terrifying. Fortunately, while we were in the air, we didn't know (about the terrorist attack).
As soon as he could, Andrew landed the plane and ended up being stuck in Baltimore, Maryland, for a few days. His flight left Tuesday morning, and he didn’t make it home until late Thursday.
“Once we got on the ground and saw what had happened, it was terrifying,” Andrew told Rare. “Fortunately, while we were in the air, we didn’t know [about the terrorist attack].”
“We got our plane on the ground in Baltimore and sat there for a couple days while things got cleared up,” he said.
According to Andrew, the days after the attacks were hectic as the airlines and the government tried to figure out how to re-open the airports.
“Every time they would come up with a solution to get the airports open, somebody would come up with another security threat,” Andrew said.
Every time they would come up with a solution to get the airports open, somebody would come up with another security threat.
Fifteen years after the attack, Andrew has gotten used to the new procedures in place to help prevent planes from being hijacked and says he doesn’t think about the reason very often.
“After 9/11, our procedures 100 percent changed so that the cockpit is always, always, always protected,” he said.
Even though those new procedures give Andrew peace of mind about his job, the ease in which terrorists murdered flight crews and took over airplanes on 9/11 will always stick with him.
“I’m not worried about, but it’s always on your mind,” he said. “I can see how the crews got taken advantage of and used as weapons. It makes sense how it was done, but it will hopefully never happen again.”
This is part of a personal, original Rare series reflecting on a national-turned-hometown tragedy. See the complete series and find full 9/11 anniversary coverage at on.rare.us/911.
The death and life of my hometown | Reflecting on 9/11, a national-turned-hometown tragedy for Middletown, N.J.
A moment in tragedy | How this train station became an unlikely symbol of healing after the 9/11 attacks
A legacy of kindness | After her brother died on 9/11, a woman found this unique way to spread peace
“Get your aircraft to the ground” | 15 years after 9/11, this pilot remembers the day air travel came to a grinding halt
A legacy of bravery, sacrifice | As the towers started to burn on 9/11, this officer rushed from his post to save as many lives as possible
Life’s greatest gift amid heartbreak | With tears in her eyes, she remembers a new mom whose husband didn’t come home on 9/11
A sobering connection | This teacher’s perspective on how many people from her town died on 9/11 will bring you to tears