Navigating Chaos: Aviation Pros Recall Events of 9/11
Symposium Offers Rare Chance to Hear from Key Players in U.S. Response
Sep. 15, 2010
On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, hundreds gathered at UT Dallas to hear the rarely told stories of aviation professionals whose decisions helped keep circumstances surrounding the terrorist attacks from taking even more lives.
Saturday’s public symposium, “Navigating Chaos: Aviation’s Response on 9/11,” which was televised live on C-SPAN, was organized by The University of Texas at Dallas McDermott Library’s Special Collections department.
Pilot Gerald Earwood scurried to avoid United Flight 175 as it flew toward the World Trade Center South Tower.
UT Dallas President David E. Daniel welcomed the air traffic controllers, pilots and other aviation professionals who served on the panels, as well as the approximately 300 audience members who came to hear them.
“A university is a place where we objectively examine historic events and learn from them,” said Daniel. “Events surrounding September 11 are particularly important because there are so many compelling stories to be shared. A university serves as common ground, where people gather to explore and discuss important subjects, even those that generate strong emotion.”
Pilot Gerald Earwood shared one of the day’s most compelling stories.
“I witnessed disaster straight on,” said Earwood. “I saw it through my cockpit window.”
Earwood, the pilot that morning of Midwest Express Flight 7, had to quickly maneuver his plane to avoid United Flight 175. The hijacked airliner came “right up my backdoor,” he said, giving him no chance to see the plane before it nearly collided with his own.
United 175 then crashed into the World Trade Center South Tower.
Earwood guided MidEx 7 through the smoke from the first World Trade Center crash, then looked back and saw both towers on fire.
"“Events surrounding September 11 are particularly important because there are so many compelling stories to be shared," UT Dallas President David E. Daniel said.
Two days later, Earwood was the first pilot authorized to fly out of LaGuardia, a day ahead of the official end to the national ground stop. His job was to carry 35 stranded crew members back to Milwaukee.
“I was more afraid of leaving New York than the actual event of the near midair [collision],” he said. “LaGuardia was a ghost town, and they opened it for us to get out.”
Upon clearance, Earwood taxied to the runway, lifted off and was directed over the World Trade Center.
“I have never been to Ground Zero, but I saw it that day from the cockpit,” he said. “It was moving, very moving.”
With a military escort, Earwood guided the first commercial aircraft out of New York since the grounding. The controllers were happy to talk to a non-military pilot. “We chatted all the way to Milwaukee,” he said.
Although some pilots and air controllers were unable to return to their jobs after 9/11, Earwood continued to fly. “As far as giving up flying, it never crossed my mind,” he said. “It is what I have done since I was 17 years old, and I was not going to let these people scare me out of my life.”
Other panelists included Ben Sliney, national operations manager for the Federal Aviation Administration; Colin Scoggins, the military liaison and an air traffic controller at FAA's Boston Center; Lt. Col. Joe McGrady of the 102nd Fighter Wing; Chuck Savall, pilot of Midwest Express Flight 73; Maj. Dan Caine of the DC Air National Guard and the flying supervisor for the 121st Fighter Squadron at Andrews AFB; Dan Creedon, departure controller for the Terminal Radar Approach Control at Reagan National Airport. The moderator was Lynn Spencer, author of Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11.
“Special Collections provides a unique opportunity for libraries to collect information and research materials that provide knowledge outside of the general realm of the University,” said Dr. Sheila Amin Gutiérrez de Piñeres, the interim dean of the McDermott Library and dean of undergraduate education. “The History of Aviation Collection was an excellent host for this in-depth discussion.
“Our nation’s history of flight will forever be influenced by the events of September 11. Having panelists recount their experience of this day of our nation’s history adds an important chapter to our archives.”
The pilots’ panel included (left to right) Gerald Earwood of Midwest Express, Lt. Col. Joe McGrady and Chuck Savall, also of Midwest Express. Maj. Dan Caine (not pictured), of the D.C. National Air Guard, also participated on the pilots’ panel.
Symposium moderator Lynn Spencer (left) discussed air traffic controllers’ responses with Dan Creedon of Reagan National Airport TRACON, Ben Sliney, former Federal Aviation Administration National Operations Manager, and Colin Scoggins of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Boston Center.