Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 11, 2011.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 the sky was clear and blue as far as Eddie Hitt could see from over 50,000 feet in the air.
Hitt, a FedEx pilot from Yazoo City, was flying to Hartford, Conn. from Memphis, Tenn. when the plane’s captain noticed something strange on the horizon.
“We could see the smoke coming out of the World Trade Center,” Hitt said. “At the time we didn’t think it was anything to be alarmed about. I remember the captain saying it was probably an electrical fire. We never dreamed it was an airplane.”
Hitt and his coworkers didn’t realize at the time that they had a bird’s eye view of the World Trade Center about 10 minutes after the first plane hit. The second plane had not yet struck as they were passing by.
“There was some weird chatter on the radio from some of the controllers at the time,” Hitt said. “It seemed odd, but we didn’t realize yet what was going on.”
When they landed Hitt saw people watching the scene on television that he had just flown over.
“We were just shocked when we found out what had happened,” Hitt said. “Before that day we never really thought about something like this happening.”
What was supposed to be a 30-minute stop in Hartford turned into a three-day stay as all air traffic was grounded for security purposes. Hitt said he was relieved to be able to reach his family in Yazoo and let them know he was safe.
“Cell phones weren’t what they are today 10 years ago, but I was able to reach them from the hotel phone once we got a hotel,” Hitt said.
When Hitt was finally able to return home, he had to take a journey that included a stop in Canada because the airspace over New York was restricted.
“Everybody seem very jumpy on the radio,” Hitt said.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed everything about air travel. Before that terrible day, travelers were able to leave their shoes on while walking through metal detectors, kiss loved ones goodbye at the gate and bring as much shampoo as they desired. The Transportation Security Administration didn’t exist, full body scanners seemed like the stuff of science fiction movies and safety measures were usually set by each individual airport.
Hitt has seen just as many changes on professional side of the industry. Things will never be the same, and Hitt will never forget his unique view of that historical day.
“I will always remember it being such a clear, beautiful morning, but it turned out to be such a dark day for our country,” he said.