Twenty years on…
Twenty years ago, on the morning of September 11, 2001, nineteen militant Islamist al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airliners and launched a devastating attack on America. Two of them were flown into the Twin Towers, and almost 3,000 innocent people died – between them representing almost every nation and religion. The beloved daughter of someone I knew, John Clarke, was one of those killed.
On that dreadful morning, I was driving up to London when the first radio reports of an aircraft hitting a skyscraper came through. My first thought was fog, perhaps an inexperienced pilot had strayed into Manhattan and crashed; it had happened before! Minutes later, they said it was an airliner, speculating that the hijacked crew had been forced to fly into a building. I knew no pilot could be persuaded to do such a wicked thing, even at gunpoint. Any pilot would know the devastating consequences of such an act, both for their passengers, occupants of the buildings and themselves. They would rather crash into the Hudson than deliberately aim at a skyscraper; it made no sense.
Soon, we heard another aircraft had hit the Twin Towers, and that it was a clear blue-sky day. There was talk of hijackings elsewhere, and, dejectedly, I realised America was under attack. If you’ve ever flown into Heathrow, you will have flown along the Thames, right past the Houses of Parliament and other landmark buildings. With several members of my family and close friends working in the area, I was immediately concerned. Were the attacks limited to America, or were the fanatics about to do the same here? Surely London must be a target; if so, there was no way of preventing it. Air traffic is strictly controlled, but it’s completely reliant on-air crews doing exactly as they’re told; any deviation needs permission. Flying and steering an already airborne airliner is not as difficult as you might think; I knew this because I had done it.
Pilots need regular safety checks, and the simulators they use are as real as the actual planes they fly. When airmen go for these annual checks, they are allotted quite a bit of time ‘in the sim’ to practice engine failures, bird strikes and any other catastrophe that almost certainly will never happen in their actual flying career. Simulator training allows them to safely handle anything that’s theoretically possible; although the pilots do have a fair idea what’s coming, and usually pass easily. The allotted time left over can be used by people like me, flying enthusiast friends tagging along, wanting to know what it’s really like to ‘fly’ a big jet. It’s easier than you’d think; when I had a go, one check pilot (the guy who oversees training) reckoned some of my landings were better than a few of his (presumably very junior) pilots!
Incredibly, on YouTube you can still find videos labelled ‘how to fly and land an airliner’. Taking off is the hardest part, but the brainwashed terrorists didn’t have to do that; they left it to the professionals and then killed them. The perpetrators were dead, but George Bush and Tony Blair reacted by sending troops into Iraq and Afghanistan to avenge 9/11. Back then many of us struggled to see what that could achieve; that hasn’t changed.
Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, MP Bob Seely has been sniping about the messy withdrawal. He’s also said on national radio that: “We don’t have a duty to save the world,” but when talking about Hong Kong, one of his hobby horses, he said we must offer “mass asylum” to anybody fleeing the Chinese. So Bob, should Islanders be welcoming Afghan evacuees or not?