Thursday, August 17, 2006

I just watched a fascinating program on the History Channel, Grounded on 9/11, the story of the grounding of all aircraft above the country on that day. I have always been interested in this and there were several stories told that were new to me.

For example, many planes landed in Memphis because it had such excess capacity. There is not much activity in the morning but then in the afternoon all those FedEx planes are taking off. They did not leave that day so that left a lot of room to land planes. Memphis landed all they could(second in number only by Indianapolis) and then started sending planes to Little Rock until Little Rock called and said they had no more parking space.

They started sending them to smaller airports. They mentioned Wilson, which I have never heard of. Evidently they handle private planes but that day they had big planes from all the major airlines landing there.

There were two more scares, other than the four flights that crashed.

One Delta flight had an unruly passenger. They landed the plane in Cleveland and were surrounded by security but evidently there was no evil intent.

Another was a Korean airliner flying to the US. There was a miscommunication problem when Alaska air control notified them of the highjackings. The aircraft acknowledged this communication in such a way that air control thought that plane had been highjacked. (The international language for international travel is English.) For some reason, the plane was sent to little Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. Only one other plane of that size had ever landed there. The runway was long enough but not wide enough. They were afraid that with an inexperienced pilot the plane might have trouble with the gravel on the side of the runway. The airport is so close to the city center of Whitehorse that the town was evacuated. Luckily the plane landed safely and all was well.

Many planes were over the Atlantic and were too far to turn back to Europe. Those planes were landed, for the most part, at Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. We owe them a debt of gratitude for the way this small town welcomed the 7600 passengers that found themselves there. The people opened their homes and schools to provide shelter, and they worked to feed all those people.

There had been a protocol, never before invoked, to ground all planes. Afterward there was an inquiry as to how to proceed next time, in case it was needed again. An extraordinary thing happened. A federal agency had some common sense, and decided that more detailed plans would just hamper the air traffic controllers and to leave the decisions to them with their experience and knowledge.

This will probably be on again. I highly recommend it.

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