That line was said thousands of times on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 by air traffic controllers nationwide. The next line went something like this: “You will be instructed to land at a nearby airport.” After that, each aircraft was given a clearance from our nation’s skies at the rate of one per second. One per second! And it didn’t stop until all 5000 aircraft in the sky that day had landed. That took two and a half hours from the time the National Airspace System (NAS) was closed.

8:46 a.m.            American Airlines Flight 11 strikes the North Tower

9:03 a.m.            United Airlines Flight 175 strikes the South Tower

9:17 a.m.            The FAA closes all New York area airports

9:26 a.m.            After discussions with NORAD, the FAA orders a nation-wide ground-stop for all civilian aircraft, meaning that no more airplanes could take off.

9:37 a.m.            American Airlines Flight 77 strikes the Pentagon

9:45 a.m.            The FAA closes the National Airspace System

10:03 a.m.            United Airlines Flight 93 crashes into a filed in Pennsylvania

FAA Closure of U.S. Airspace

From 9:45, (when the NAS was closed and air traffic controllers were instructed to start clearing every civilian aircraft from the sky) until 10:30, a span of 45 minutes, over 2500 civilian aircraft landed and airports across the nation. A rate of over 56 aircraft per minute! By 12:15 p.m. there were no civilian aircraft left in the sky. That was a first since 1938!

Air traffic controllers see a lot of strange things every day. But this was eerie. It was also a solemn period. All the banter turned to a determined, methodical choreography to get every airplane out of the sky and safely on the ground. SOMEWHERE! Most aircraft were easy—nearest airport. But others, especially the airliners and jets, runway consideration had to be taken into account. Can’t land a jet that needs 5,000 feet of runway to takeoff at an airport with only a 4,000-foot runway.

Was it pandemonium like most would believe? Not even close. Once the order was given, it was done with precision. Were there any hiccups? Of course, but nothing that couldn’t be handled quickly and without incident.

The events of September 11, 2001 will be etched into our minds and our history books forever, just like December 7, 1941. Thousands lost their lives, all casualties of a war against terror. WE will mourn that loss forever.

I’ve attached a link to a video of a Dateline-NBC interview from the one-year anniversary of 9/11. It’s about 45 minutes in length with no commercials but it gives you an insight of 9/11 from a totally different perspective—one I’ll never forget.

Dateline:NBC-Controllers Special video


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