Friday, December 3, 2021

Your Stories: 9-11 Remembered



September 11, 2001 is one of the unique times in our lives that we will forever remember exactly where we were and what we were doing, no matter how close or how far we were to the actual events. Some were much closer than others, but it affected each and every one of us no matter where we were!

From the first plane crash into Tower One, a sense of uncertainty and fear swept across the country, and beyond. One thing was certain, we were all Americans and we were bound together by the attack regardless, of race, creed, economic status or political view. Terrorists had come out of hiding and showed the depth of their evil while heroes were born, showing the strength of their courage and patriotism!

In memory of the tragedy, and since we all have our own story, Coastal Breeze News invited readers via Facebook and email, to submit their experience. Below are some of those stories. We will add more each day until September 12th.

The Marco Island Fire Rescue Foundation will host a 10th Anniversary luncheon on Sunday, September 11th at the Marco Island Marriott at 11:30 AM.  Join us in ‘A Celebration of Courage’. Tickets are available through any Foundation Member.


Fire Rescue Chief Michael Murphy, City of Marco Island 

I was in my office at the Fire Station and a firefighter came in and said a plane hit the world trade center. I clearly remember the faces of the firefighters and police officers as they watched the television when I walked into the day room. The first tower had been struck. We began discussing the gravity of the event. As we watched, I saw a helicopter on the far side and then the second plane began to appear. I knew it was an attack and hoped the helicopter pilot saw it and would act as a shield. That pilot probably never saw the plane. We began to talk of the brotherhood of firefighters, police and EMS personnel, their formidable task and how many of them would not be going home. I started thinking of my friends at the New York City Fire Department and Hazardous Materials Team and hoped they would be safe.  But I knew them and like most firefighters, they wanted to be first in, right in the middle of it, as many were and they never went home.

I called my daughter in New York and told her to walk across the bridge and get out of the City. I told her to stay off transit and get to my cousin on Long Island.

At the time I was the chair of the Florida State Working Group on Domestic Security under Governor Bush. We had a terrorism response plan in place and a task force for this issue. I called the Florida Division of Emergency management for an update and get the group together. The State was in full action and putting the plan in place. I felt very proud of Florida. I attempted a few phone calls to my New York City friends to find out their status. I found out from one of their dads that their son was on the NYC Fire Boat. Later I found out that they had responded to ground zero and he survived, though many would not.

I went into the back of the Fire Station and watched the remaining events unfold. Having lived in New York, I knew the World Trade Center would have over 10,000 people in it and prayed that they were able to get out. As we sat in the back, we talked about our profession of going into fires and about how those civilians and firefighters must be feeling. We could imagine the adrenaline and excitement in the firefighters to get to the fire floor to save people and put out the fires, they believed they could do it. We also talked of the fear the civilians must be feeling.

When the towers came down we all knew the loss would be great and our thoughts went to the families. We watched the news the rest of the day and as they spread the news coverage out to the world, I remember one time having anger when certain groups were cheering as they watched the towers come down.

At the end of the day I knew four things:

The World would never be the same.

Terrorists had once again awakened a sleeping giant and would feel it’s wrath.
I was proud of my profession.
We had our work cut out for us.


Elizabeth Collard,  Past Delta Airlines employee,  Marco Island Resident

I am a retired airline employee. We had been in Europe for two weeks on vacation.

We originally planned to try to fly from Rome to Atlanta on Sep. 12, 2001. As airline employees we travel space available. The day of 9/11 we traveled all day via train from the Cinque Terre region to Orvieto, where we had reservations to spend the night. During this time we were on local Italian trains and did not know what had happened. Once we arrived at the hotel, the clerk was distracted and intently watching the TV in the bar. When we saw the TV screen with the collapsing buildings, devastation of the Pentagon and crash site in the PA field, we thought he was watching a disaster movie. When we asked casually (in Italian) what he was watching, he just said, “New York, Washington, Pennsylvania…” When we got to our room we turned on the television and watched all night, horrified. The next day we took another train to Rome, where we were told that all flights to the US had been shut down. We took a flight to Paris, hoping that there would be more options once flights to the US were resumed. We tried to catch a flight that night, but couldn’t. It was difficult finding a hotel in Paris. The next two days we spent at the Paris airport, just looking at the monitors for ANY flight going in the direction of the US. On the 14th we got space on a flight from Paris to Mexico City. The flights were still closed into the US. We waited at the airport and overheard some people talking about a flight to Tijuana. We tried but were unable to get seats.  I knew that Ciudad Juarez is located across the border from El Paso, TX. We got the last two seats on the 2 1/2 hour flight to Ciudad Juarez. The small airport was packed with Americans trying to get home. We paid $50 US to share a van with other Americans to the Rio Grande River crossing to Texas. Once we got to the bridge, the van driver made us get out as he was not allowed to drive across. At this point we had been traveling for many hours. Halfway across the bridge there was a US flag flying. It was fluttering in the breeze. I will never forget the relief I felt. I can’t say I bent down and kissed the ground…I was exhausted! I was crying and very thankful to be back in our country. We walked up to the Border Control window a little after midnight. The Agent told us, “We’re closed,” so we simply walked past him. So much for border control.

We spent the night in El Paso, TX. The next day we caught a flight to Dallas, where we spent the night after trying all day to get seats. The next day we finally got seats and returned home to Atlanta.


Jim Lang, Customer Service Manager,  Marco Island Utilities

The morning of 9-11 I was at work with what was then Florida Water Services. My wife called and said a plane had just hit the Twin towers in New York.  I at first had thought it was the fault of the pilot and didn’t imagine it to be a large passenger plane. We turned on the TV at work and I believe it was Katie Couric who was on the air and the second plane had hit.  I was then convinced it was some type of orchestrated attempt by some group.  It was a tense day and the following days too, not knowing what other plans they had made to bring fear in our everyday lives. I felt helpless as most of us with not knowing what we could do and who we could strike back at. I only knew those responsible had to suffer consequences of that horrendous act.


Joyce Campebell Martindell, Marco Island Resident

I was at home watching the Today Show. I saw the second plane crash on TV.  I could not stop crying!


Steve ‘Stef’ Stefanides,   Public Safety Sales

When I woke on the morning of September 11, 2001 I was excited at the prospect of picking up my brother and sister in-law in Baltimore later that afternoon.   Both Bill and Ellen were fanatic baseball fans from New Hampshire, and I could think of no better gift than to have them come to Camden Yards and watch Cal Ripken, Jr. in one of his final games.

I had flown into Baltimore on Monday evening and drove down to Arlington, Virginia to stay with a good friend and take her out to dinner and prepare for a meeting at the Pentagon the next morning to look at the heliport ARFF (Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting) vehicle that was in need of refurb work which would be handled at our plant in Ocala, Florida, after I had done an evaluation and written up a proposal.

Like many folks I was amazed at the fact that someone could have flown a plane into the World Trade Center; how could any idiot in clear skies and unlimited visibility make such an error.  I left the house in Arlington right around 9 AM just prior to the next plane hitting the second tower, therefore I never heard what had been thought an accident was now an act of terrorism.

I had an appointment at 10 AM and I always tried to arrive 15 minutes ahead of schedule and was approximately 5 minutes away from the Pentagon when the Flight 77 slammed into the west side of the building at 9:38 AM.  I only found out about the second plane  about 10 minutes before my scheduled arrival at the gate of the Pentagon; the black acrid smoke was already rising above the Pentagon and the news reports were confirming we were under attack, but no one knew by whom.

The crew of that piece of apparatus miraculously escaped serious injury or death by abandoning that vehicle and diving under it as Flight 77 clipped it as it crashed into the Pentagon.  The truck was eventually replaced by a piece of apparatus that our company built in a window of only a couple of weeks; an unbelievable task by a group of very dedicated and talented staff of professionals doing their part after the horrendous carnage on 9-11.

I was subsequently dispatched to our facilities in Preble, NY and the next morning brought a recently completed hazmat vehicle into the city due to the extreme loss of equipment and vehicles as a result of the collapse of the towers.   The devastation is still indescribable in words and is hard to speak about; I think the closest description of the destruction was “it was like looking into the gates of hell”.

Some of these men were known to me personally, specifically those of Rescue 1 Company.  We had been working with them on the design of their new apparatus.  On that morning the outgoing shift joined with the incoming shift and responded together; none of them would have missed their opportunity to be on scene to assist and they gave the ultimate sacrifice…I can only hope that each generation to come will be reminded of the unselfish sacrifice made by the men and women that day who gave their all and that we NEVER FORGET!!


Dr. Jory Westberry, Principal, Tommie Barfield Elementary

I was working at a different elementary school off Marco Island at the time. We heard the rumor first and thought it impossible, but as the frequency of the news grew, the denial morphed into disbelief and then horror. Adults wanted to turn on the TVs and watch, but our need to see the truth was squelched by the impact and nightmares that our students could have if they observed a tragedy of this magnitude at their young ages. TV’s stayed off. Parents flocked to the school to remove their children and have them close in case the terrorism spread. It was a nightmare. Only after the students were gone and TV’s came on did the impact begin to register. I know we all hurried home to be with loved ones in the midst of such chaos.


Christina Giordano, Columnist

I’m originally from the Bronx, NY and I lost 3 people in the towers.  I remember exactly how I felt and what I was doing when my boss told me to stop working and turn on the TV…all I could do was think,  Oh My God…this is the city where I grew up and where all my memories are. Then the reality hit…I was working for an aviation company and had to work extremely quick.


Michelle Hurtley, Marco Island Resident

I was right here on Marco, while my husband was flying from RSW to Pittsburgh! His plane landed safely within minutes of Flight 93 going down very nearby. I will never forget the flood of relief seeing his name light up on my cell phone! When he took off that morning at RSW it was gorgeous. When he landed at PGH, we were at war. Both towers had fallen, the Pentagon had been hit and US airspace had been shut down.


Richard & Mary Kasper, Green Bay, Wisconsin and Marco Island, Florida

9/11 what a memory, my wife and I could never forget.    We were on a bus tour of the Canyons of Arizona & Utah.   On the evening of 9/l0 we were in the Grand Canyon hiking and taking photos of the sunset.  We were told we should get up early and do the same trail at Sunrise as it is altogether different.   We rose at 5 AM and did our hike and it was terrific, photos and all.   We were returning to our lodge at approx 9 AM eastern time.  What a beautiful sunny day, in fact there were 3 deer on our lodge lawn having their breakfast.  Stunning.   As we were about to enter the lodge, some guests were exiting, crying and very sad.  I said to them, “how could you be sad on such a beautiful day?”  They responded, “Turn on your TV and see!”  We did and immediately and saw the second plane hit Tower 2.  What a shock!  We sat there stunned.  After watching for an hour, we went to the main lodge for breakfast and I decided to call our son who is managing our business.   It took at least a half hour to get a phone line and when we reached him, his statement was “Thank God we have such great leaders in our country” he then said “Dad, you are probably in the safest place you could be in our country,” as at that point more planes were crashing and no one really knew what to expect.   As a young boy I lived through the turmoil of the Pearl Harbor attacks which our country never expected and also felt we were going to be attacked on the mainland.   We continued on our bus tour for the rest of the week, however, we were so remote in Utah that we had no TV’s or newspapers for the next 3 days and had no idea what was happening to our country.   What a relief when we finally arrived on Friday evening in Las Vegas and found out our country was still whole and planes were again flying.


Teresa Groves, Social Security Administration, Racine, Wisconsin

I stayed glued to my computer – just like everybody else at the office. The world as we knew it was ending….


Jack and Pat Patterson, Retired from Verizon

My wife and I were in Houston, TX caring for our grandson.  His father was in Hong Kong and his mother and her new husband were on their honeymoon in Central America. I had just returned from taking my grandson to his high school in downtown Houston when I poured a cup of coffee and turned on the television to see the first attack.   His father called from Hong Kong expecting that the next attack would be to the oil refineries in Houston and his mother called to check on us.  We called his high school, the Episcopal School, to verify what their plan was for dismissal.   The students had been taken to the chapel for prayers and would remain at school until normal dismissal.  When we inquired about after school football practice we were informed practice was not being changed, after all this was Texas where football is king. The coach kept the kids an hour over time and when I got Jonathan home he was tired but anxious to see the events replayed on television.  We put up their flag and prayed for those involved.   A day we will not forget.


Jose Granda, Retired

My wife and I were on a Royal Caribbean cruise coming into Cozumel, Mexico when the Captain made the announcement of what’s going on in New York. Almost everybody on the ship returned to their cabin to watch TV and see what was going on. In our case the first thing we did was to try to call our son in law that used to work at the World Trade Center on the 84th floor. We couldn’t get hold of him since there were no communications into NY. We called our daughter and she didn’t have any news either. As it turned out he was OK, he missed his regular train out of Trenton, N.J. by a few minutes and took the train after and when it got to the station prior to the World Trade Center the train stopped and went no further. He had a tough time getting back home that day, but he made it, not like a lot of his friends that died that day. Our vacation changed immediately, about ¾ of the passengers never got out of the ship in Cozumel and we all attended a prayer service in the afternoon. We did not find anything about our son-in-law until sometime before dinner. The mood on the ship was very sad and most of us tried to console each other as there were quite a few that had family in harm way and did not know if their family or friend were alive or not. The next day we were supposed to go to Grand Cayman and for some unknown reasons, still to this day, that stop was cancelled and we all spent extra days at sea before coming back to Miami. When we arrived in Miami, they announced that more than half the ship was not able to come and you could stay in the ship for another week for $250/person, most of the people that arrived also could not go home as all the flights have been cancelled and stayed on the ship. This changed our lives forever in America.  We can never forget what happened that day. We need to continue to stay vigilant because freedom as we know it, is never free. God bless America, the greatest country in the history of the world.


Donna Fiala, County Commissioner

Where was I on Sept. 11th?  It was the Commissioners first day back after our summer recess.  We had just started a County Commission meeting when the County Manager, Tom Olliff, got a silent call to say a plane had hit the Twin Tower.  He wrote the message out and passed it down to the Commissioners while we were in session.  We felt so sad, thinking about “this accident”.  Then he got a second call.  This time we knew it wasn’t an accident.  Then the third call came and we were trying to decide whether it was an attack on the USA and should we adjourn our meeting, close the county building, or what??   The Commissioners just wanted to get out of that meeting and turn on the TV to see what was going on.  We announced to the audience what was happening, because of course they had no way of knowing.  We went on a break to see for ourselves.  When we came back the fourth call came.  By this time I just wanted to go home, I didn’t want to hear about any problems locally because our country was in danger and I wanted to do whatever I could to help.  Of course, we stayed – but I don’t think any of us were really focused on what was going on because all we could think of was what was happening to our country.  Then the call came that the towers were falling.  We went on another break to see for ourselves.  I don’t recall what decisions we made that day, but I can recall vividly all that went on externally and emotionally within myself and our staff.  I wanted to call all of my kids to tell them I loved them and to stay safe.


Richelle Rapaport, Director of Nursing, Veteran’s Administration Hospital on Long Island

On 9/11/2001 I was working at my hospital, orchestrating a big   inspection by an accreditation agency. I first heard the news when the plane   flew into the first tower, but I thought it was just an accident. I had   previously been part of the Port Authority of NY-NJ health team which worked   on the emergency evacuation plans.  The engineers had explained to us that   there was always the possibility that some plane might fly into the towers, but   that the exits were on the corners of the building so everyone could move to a   floor above or below the accident.   The building could take the hit, no   problem. I wondered about casualties but let the thought pass since the EMTs   and PA police were well trained to handle this type of thing.  I heard   about the second plane a few minutes later and then I knew that it was a   deliberate attack by someone, I had no idea who.  Someone like the Oklahoma City federal building bomber, maybe.  I still thought the casualties would be light, and would go to local hospitals. It was not until I passed by a waiting room and saw the image of the tower collapsing, hearing the shock in   everyone’s voices, that I realized what an enormous tragedy this was, and that   there were people I knew in those buildings. It was very sad. Work stopped and   the high alert terror activities began since I work at a government hospital,   which at that time was considered a terrorist target. Life has never been the same since.


Chief Don Hunter, Marco Island Police Department, Collier County Sheriff during 9-11

The morning of September 11, 2001 began as a normal morning for me as Sheriff of Collier County.  There was the usual overnight messaging from field units reporting the significant events of the night before.  Watch command had not reported any unusual activity or concerns; my recollection was we had the usual reports of a number of property related crime incidents, domestic disputes and arrests for driving while intoxicated (DUI).

The normalcy was interrupted as we all know, by the attacks that occurred about mid-morning and this would not only change the day for law enforcement, it would create a new normal that would take some time to adjust to.  Suddenly, we were on watch for any spin off violence and suspect activity that could either erupt spontaneously or perhaps had been planned as follow on events.

We would learn many things in the days to come that put us on an even higher alert.  For instance, a public hotline that we established to accept concerns and tips from the public disclosed information about attack related activity which included at least two significant attack celebration parties in the county; investigation of these parties led to the discovery of at least two persons who were illegally present foreign nationals.  (This fact inspired my involvement in federal immigration enforcement efforts.)

Within hours we had conducted an agency command staff meeting and direction had been given to patrol and investigative elements of the Sheriff’s Office to immediately survey all known active businesses that might be owned or operated by Middle Eastern persons.  The thought was that these businesses would need special protection and aid in the event that there was a backlash against persons from Middle Eastern countries.  This also permitted us the opportunity to establish communication links with this community of people for future law enforcement needs.  Additionally, contact was established with the international destination hotels in the county to determine whether they had any guests, especially foreign nationals that might be concerned for their safety or need assistance.

Days later we discovered that a local flight instruction business with offices in Naples and Venice, Florida, had actually unwittingly helped train the purported terror cell leader (Atta) and one other member(believed to be Marwan al-Shehhi) of the terrorist cell who flew the planes on9-11.  It was learned that the terror cell had been residing on the east coast of Florida and traveled throughout south Florida I considered Collier County to be an area of concern for the gathering of information and creating federal, state and local linkages to better secure our area.  Time will tell whether the efforts of federal, state and local government have been enough to protect the public.  Those efforts continue today.


Barb Dasti,  Retiree,  Citigroup

I was in Long Island City, NY, with a clear view of the World Trade Centers across the river on the 14th floor of the tallest building in Long Island City.  Someone said that the World Trade Center was on fire and when we went to look out of the window, we saw the second plane hit and go right through the building.  I had co-workers who were at 7 World Trade (the building that collapsed at 5:00 p.m. that night) and we all tried to call, but by that time the phone service was down.

My entire department left the building (even though we were scheduled for an all day meeting with outside vendors).  We took the subway into Manhattan and got off at the first stop and walked to Penn Station.  We were all trying our cell phones, but could not get through to any one.

When we got to Penn Station, my boss and I got on our train leaving Penn Station for New Jersey.  We found out later that it was the last train to leave Penn Station that day.  When we got out of the tunnel in NJ and looked back at the NY skyline, there was only one tower standing and then we watched as that one went down.

The train did not go all the way to my stop because the NJ transit system was shut down as was all transportation.  Fortunately, when the train stopped, I was able to reach my husband to come pick me up.

I will never ever forget that day for as long as I live.  It still brings tears to my eyes, when I think of it…and I was one of the lucky ones that was able to get home without walking miles and miles and miles and lived to talk about it.

We went back to work two days later but had to go home.  It was just too painful knowing how many people lost their lives and the impact that it left on all of us that were there to witness what happened.  Our colleagues from 7 World Trade were transferred to our offices in Long Island City.  They were devastated by what they saw that day being right across the street from the Twin Towers.  The stories they told us sent a chill up our spines.  They endured the dust, the fumes, the loss of lives and the destruction.  Most left the building with nothing but what they were wearing…no cell phones, no laptops, no purses, no personal belongs.

The next year, we had a power outage in NY and it sent the same fear and panic in everyone to try to leave their offices to get home to their loved ones.  People were asking:  are we having another having another 9-11?


Jerry Gibson, Chairman, Marco Island City Council

I was walking down the concourse of the Nice (France) Airport to board a flight to London Luton Airport when I noticed a big screen television showing what I recognized as the Twin towers with smoke coming out of the top of one of the towers. I stopped to find out what the problem was and while discussing the possibilities with other travelers the second plane hit and I instantly knew. We all stood in disbelief and watched. Shortly after, the television stated there were reports of another attack at the Pentagon. Believe it or not the Police appeared and turned off the television at this point with the explanation it was for security reasons. I continued on to board my flight and had no further information (we left late and arrived in London late but we did fly) until I reached Luton Airport. Upon arrival I went to arrange for some ground transportation I needed in the future and while speaking with the lady to do that she asked if I was a Yank. When I told her yes she said “I am so sorry for what happened in New York at the Towers”. Thinking she meant the planes crashing into them I said something in appreciation but it was enough for her to realize I did not know the extent of the damage. When she looked at me and said “Oh my God you don’t know they collapsed do you?” I was stunned.

I immediately left and grabbed a cab to my hotel. I arrived just as Prime Minister Tony Blair was beginning a press conference. I will never forget standing in the hotel’s pub watching Mr. Blair make the statement “we stand shoulder to shoulder with our American allies” with tears running down my face. What Americans don’t realize is just how courageous that statement was by Mr. Blair. At the time all of London was expecting to also be the recipient of similar attacks but it did not stop him from standing with us. Things were very subdued that evening in London. Needless to say I will never forget 9/11/01 and being on foreign soil during the attacks.


George Abounader, Principal, Marco Island Charter Middle School

As the news started breaking, there really weren’t enough facts to report; however, I did know that the initial images being televised were horrific.  My immediate response was to enter each classroom calmly and report to each teacher what I knew and to quietly tell each teacher that the classroom television was not to be on.  I felt that images of that magnitude and content should be seen by a middle school age child first in the security of their home, surrounded by their parents/guardians.  The school day continued with no interruptions and business was carried on in the usual and customary fashion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *