Editor’s Note: Albie Del Favero, Village Voice Media executive vice president and founding publisher of the Nashville Scene, boarded an American Airlines flight early Tuesday to New York. He was to attend a company board meeting in a Manhattan office. Instead, from the air, he witnessed one of history’s most barbaric events. This is his account, as relayed to the Scene from a pay telephone in Long Island.
There was nothing unusual about the flight. Everything was normal. We were on our approach. Then the stewardess said, “Look, the World Trade Center is on fire. There’s smoke billowing out.” There weren’t many people on the flight, so I move to the left-hand side of the plane and got a window seat. Soon, everyone on the plane is starting to talk about it.
Really, it was unbelievable because when you fly into New York on a gorgeous day, it’s just beautiful. And it was a gorgeous day–not a cloud in the sky. It was sort of bizarre because the smoke wasn’t moving–it was just hanging in the air, sitting there. And all of a sudden, this explosion just occurs. It was this incredible ball of fire. And that was the second plane. At that point, the guy behind me says, “I was supposed to stay there tonight.” He worked for J.P. Morgan or something, and he was supposed to be spending the night in the World Trade Center.
Still, at that point, nobody is freaking out. But everyone is saying they think it might have been a bomb. It was such an odd thing. Nobody is panicking at all. And in fact, people are still not clued into the fact that this is such a tragedy. They’re still at the level of dealing with this as an interruption, or as a hassle. So, there was the back and forth between it being a tragedy to being a hassle.
So the plane lands, naturally. Nobody says anything. At that point, nobody really knows anything. But the guy behind me gets on his cell phone and calls and finds out it’s a terrorist attack. So, then I called [my wife] Sara, because I think she would be worried about me, and she finds out I’m OK. She had heard from CNN that an American Airlines jet had gone down, so she was upset. But as I am getting out of the plane, I still really didn’t know the extent of what had happened. As I’m walking out the airport, I pass by a television in a bar, and they’re showing footage of the Pentagon having also been hit by a plane, and by then I’m understanding this is big.
Still, I’m thinking I’m headed into Manhattan for my board meeting. I was walking out to get a cab to go into the city. But then everyone is told that all the bridges and tunnels into the city are closed. And at this point, airport security guys start ushering us out of the airport. And then they just start saying, “Go home. No more flights. Go home. No more flights.”
Like we’re supposed to go home. That’s when all these New York-style fights break out with everyone screaming at each other.
So they usher us outside the airport, and we stand there for like 30 minutes. And we’re sitting there outside LaGuardia looking at the two World Trade towers on fire. And then all of a sudden, we’re looking around, and then somebody goes, “They’re gone.” The buildings had collapsed.
So then, the security guards move us even farther out from the airport, out to some access road or interstate. A bunch of us just go stand by this ramp. Then someone says all airports in the country are closed. And all I start thinking is, I want to go home.
Three of us then caught a cab, and we pooled some money, and we just headed away from Manhattan rather than toward it.
I’m in Long Island, and things are weird. I got Sara to rent me a car, and I’m going to try to drive back to Nashville. The saddest part about this is that one of my daughters called wanting to know if I was all right. My other daughter is on a school retreat. I hate to think my poor children are old enough to have to understand how tragic this whole thing is. When Oklahoma City happened, they were so young they didn’t grasp it. But now they can understand. That makes me very sad.