One year later

By Rebecca Hagelin

“Ladies and gentlemen this is the captain. The United States has been attacked. There have been explosions at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. All domestic flights have been ordered to land immediately at the nearest airport. For us, that’s Little Rock, Ark. We’ll be on the ground in less than 10 minutes. That’s all the information I have. Please stay seated and fasten your seatbelts.”

A deep quiet descended on the passengers like a thick fog. No one said a word.

My husband, daughter and I were on our way to a funeral in Louisiana the morning of Sept. 11 when terror struck the United States. Our connecting flight was to be made in Dallas, Texas. Of course, we never made it.

After a few minutes of stunned silence, we began talking in whispers to each other. Explosions? The World Trade Center and the Pentagon? What on earth is happening?

A few passengers began making calls on their cell phones. I was the first one to reach someone on the outside. I called Joseph Farah of – I knew he would be on top of the story. But the news he gave me made my blood run cold: He said that planes had been hijacked and were flown into the buildings. He told me that at least two of them were American Airlines. I froze – we were flying American too. I hung up and shared what I knew with the other passengers. Our eyes darted around the cabin: Was there a hijacker among us?

A couple of minutes later, a man two rows in front of me said that the World Trade Center had collapsed. We all thought he was mistaken – how on earth could that be possible?

My husband who is an officer in the Naval Reserves was somber. He whispered his thoughts: “It’s highly possible that this attack included some sort of chemical or biological agents. If that’s true, then millions of people could die.”

We all breathed a sigh of relief when our plane landed safely. We sat on the runway for over an hour waiting for the scores of planes that had been diverted to unload their passengers. Ours was the last flight in. We were led off the plane into an empty terminal. Airline workers told us to walk quickly to the main terminal – do not stop. We walked quickly down the long hallway – a string of pay phones lined the walls on my right – all the phones were dangling off the hook. It was eerie, to say the least.

When we reached the main terminal, we saw a mass of humanity. Thousands of people stood shoulder to shoulder in the hallways – human bodies poured out of the openings of the airport’s single bar. Everyone was trying to catch a glimpse of the television sets that were tuned to CNN. We were all strangely united in our horror as we watched the reruns of the World Trade Center imploding.

We spent the next five days stranded in Little Rock, Ark., glued to the TV set. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life. Our two sons were with friends in Richmond, and I had no way to get to them. Since our plane was the last to unload, all the rental cars had been taken by the time we made it to the American ticket counter. The buses and trains had suspended service. We were stuck.

As the details of the hijacking began to unravel, I couldn’t help but wonder how many lives would have been saved if the pilots had been armed. When air travel resumed, the president issued a statement saying that the military now has orders to shoot down hijacked planes headed toward big cities. Although understandable, there was a far less drastic action that had not been taken.

Wouldn’t it make sense to allow pilots to carry guns so they have a chance to take down a hijacker before the military takes down a plane of innocent passengers? It was difficult to absorb the fact that the pilots and passengers that took to the air the week of 9-11 were in the exact same predicament as before: Unarmed sitting ducks for crazed suicidal hijackers.

Now, one full year later, it looks like the common sense measure of arming pilots has a chance. Led by the courageous efforts of Congressman Ron Paul, both the House and the Senate have passed bills allowing pilots to carry guns. Thanks to Paul’s tireless work and the efforts of groups like The Liberty Committee, we just might have armed pilots flying the nation’s skies by the end of the year. To add your voice to the effort, click here.