9-11 began for me…for my family…at 6:46 AM when the phone next to my bed rang. It was something that I had grown used to over the previous 20 years of my journalistic career…and at the same time you never get used to it. A call that early meant something was wrong, the only question was….what.
The words over the phone from the editor at KFWB were tight and urgent..
“Are you watching this..?”
“Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center Towers…it looks like a hijacking and a terrorist attack…when can you provide some live reports on what is happening ?”
“I’ll call you back in 5 minutes…”
My wife Janet turned on the TV in our bedroom…and we both watched in stunned silence at the screen…of the Towers burning…and then a split screen showing the first information on flight 77 hitting the Pentagon. I moved to another room…grabbed the phone and started calling LAPD and LA Sheriffs Sources….getting quick answers on the emergency status in Los Angeles….and then we both gasped as the sight of the South Tower collapsing. The thought in my mind at that point….”We’ve just lost thousands of people….We are at war”…my wife said almost at the same moment…this is like Pearl Harbor…this is our Pearl Harbor.
The phone rang….and a retired LAPD Commander with extensive ties to the intelligence and special operations community spoke briefly with me…saying that all planes were going to be grounded…and that any aircraft…any aircraft… that didn’t obey instructions would likely be shot down. I was speechless.
I got that information on the air just a few minutes later…and then watched as the magnitude of the damage at the Pentagon became apparent…followed by the Collapse of the North Tower…and I recalled thinking that if this was a terrorist attack….it was close to a Decapitation Strike…an attack that was aimed at toppling the Government itself.
There were other quick phone calls…confirming where members of my family were..my brothers and sisters…my parents on a vacation in Hawaii who were as startled as I was at the turn of events .
I went in to work..and on the streets…seeing the disbelief..the anger…the fear in people’s faces. The unspoken questions….”How far will this go….how many more planes will crash…are these the first of a wave of attacks in cities?…and Who is responsible.”
The hours that followed were a blur….of getting facts…getting on the air…and there was clear evidence in microcosm that was LA that the nation was dealing with a new reality. An absence of cars on the freeways and streets…and perhaps most startling of all…..a silence in the air.
I recalled broadcasting live….just after 10PM….at the West End of LA International Airport…looking at vast sea of grounded planes…and asking the audience to listen as I held a microphone in the air and said nothing for 30 seconds. That silence—proof that skies that were completely empty of commercial and general aviation for the first time in a century. …was a sign of that a new paradigm was beginning…and it hasn’t ended yet.