On this day eight years ago …
… I was in the mountains of west Texas helping run a geology field trip with my master’s degree adviser.
We were driving down a lonely road in a caravan of five vehicles from the ranch house where we were staying to the first field stop of the day. We had two-way radios in each vehicle so we could give directions and point out geologic features on our way to the field. One of the field trip participants came on the walkie-talkie and said “Hey, you guys might want to turn on your radio … apparently a small plane crashed into one of the twin towers in New York.”
I remember thinking “Whoa, that’s crazy … how does a pilot not see the twin towers?” About five minutes later the NPR announcer confirmed that it wasn’t a small plane — it was a commercial airliner. The radio announcers were trying to collect information from reporters to determine what had happened. I remember sitting shotgun and my adviser driving — we just looked at each other very confused. A few minutes later the second tower was hit. This information came through the radio in real time … as it happened. I will never forget the next 10-20 seconds as my brain went into overdrive attempting to figure this out. Looking back now, this seems like a long time to realize what was transpiring.
The following 2-3 hours aren’t as crisp in my memory — we finally got to our destination, where we would start hiking, but simply stood around the vehicles listening to the radio broadcast. We had a few satellite phones and people, including myself, were trying to reach family and friends.
We decided as a group to head out to the outcrops … at least for a little while. It was a good choice, I remember being thankful for the walk and how it cleared my head a little bit. But here I was, hiking in a remote and beautiful desert — while my country was under attack — it was surreal. We spent a bit of time looking at the rocks but then headed back to the vehicles and made it back to the ranch house by mid-afternoon. The caretakers were kind enough to move their TV into the common room and we all watched — seeing the visuals for the first time after only hearing it on the radio all day.
Because all commercial flying was grounded and everyone on the trip had traveled here by plane we decided to go on with the field trip. Almost all of the participants were from Houston and a group of them decided after a couple more days that they’d rather spend a day driving across Texas and get home than wait to hear about when we could fly. My adviser and I ended up flying back to Colorado when we were scheduled to … the following weekend.
I don’t know why I felt like sharing this story this year — I guess it’s just one of those events where people remember the details of exactly what they were doing and exactly how they felt.