Alternative address is:
Subscribe to our newsletter at http://emperor.vwh.net/MailList/index.php
Receive about one article/day.
'The Associated Press'
Wednesday 12 September 2001
"Flying with President Bush on a day terrorists hit hard"
AP EDITOR'S NOTE - With terrorist atrocities unfolding in New York and
Washington, Associated Press Writer Sonya Ross was among a handful of
reporters and photographers who accompanied President Bush on his flight
Tuesday from Florida to Louisiana and Nebraska, and then back to
Washington. This is her first-person account.
By SONYA ROSS
Associated Press Writer
ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (AP) - It began as one of the most ordinary of
trips with the president. He was talking about education at a time when
everyone else wanted to talk about the economy. The stories out of
Florida were hardly Page One material. That all changed Tuesday morning.
My cell phone rang as President Bush's motorcade
coursed toward Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla. A
colleague reported that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center
in New York. No further information.
I called the AP desk in Washington, seeking details. Same scant
information. But I knew it had to be grim. I searched for a White
House official to question, but none was on hand until 9:05 a.m. Bush's
chief of staff, Andrew Card, walked into S. Kay Daniels' second grade
classroom, where the president was observing a reading lesson. He
whispered something to Bush, and the color drained from the
president's face. Bush looked at the children, at the cameras, at the
children again. Card stood off to the side briefly, then left the room.
Bush picked up a textbook in an attempt to follow the lesson, his
Clearly Bush now knew what we were trying to confirm.
Within minutes we digested the unfathomable: Not one, but two planes had
plowed into the World Trade Center. Unreal. I tried to stay cool as we
chased a rumor that the president was going to leave Florida and fly
directly to New York (that turned out to be false). We were hustled to
the school library, where Bush was supposed to trumpet the merits of
reading. Instead, he was juxtaposed against an irrelevant "Read to
Succeed" banner, telling stunned children, teachers and parents that
terrorists had hit America harder than ever.
"Terrorism against our nation will not stand," he said.
I wasn't ready for that word "terrorism." I wanted to believe a
computer, maybe a human, made things go horribly awry in New York. I
figured we would jet back to Washington, and the shocked president would
disappear behind closed doors to figure it all out. But that word,
terrorism, spoke to a much deeper horror.
Our motorcade sped from the school toward Air Force One. After all, this
was the type of high-level crisis for which we reporters are forever
This meant getting on an airplane right after terrorists crashed four
others. So even though Air Force One is often considered the safest
plane in the world, I felt more vulnerable than ever. On a day like
today, the president was surely a target too.
My cell phone rang. My sister Terea was calling from Atlanta. "Where are
you? Are you safe?" she asked. Yes, I told her, I was with the
president. We exchanged I love yous. "Call Mommy," I told her. Our
mother has a profound fear of flying. I couldn't bear to deliver news of
the flight I was about to take.
In a few frantic minutes, the Secret Service lined up everybody's bags,
even those of staffers, so they could be searched for the third time in
as many hours. Normally, the press corps is annoyed by multiple searches
- "mags," we call them - in so short a span of time. This time we gladly
yielded to the will of the bomb-sniffing dogs.
I called my boss once more. Above the whir of the Boeing 747's engines,
I told her to expect a conference call from us during the flight.
"OK," she said. "A plane has crashed into the Pentagon. I gotta go."
I reeled with disbelief, and scooped up my stuff to scramble up the
plane's rear steps. The Pentagon? Hit by a plane? What did this mean for
Air Force One? Would they come after the president's plane, too?
There had been nerve-racking flights aboard Air Force One before.
In June 1996, the plane hit turbulence over Texas as President Clinton
flew from New Mexico to South Carolina. I was tossed two feet out of my
seat. Tex-Mex dinners went airborne with us. Glasses and dishes were
broken, but even the president had a good laugh in the end.
This flight was not going to have a similar ending.
Our fears deepened as Air Force One climbed into the sky at 9:55 a.m.
EDT. Not only was the Pentagon hit, the White House was evacuated. There
was nowhere for the president to go.
The plane's crew scanned the airwaves for TV signals so we could keep up
with the drama unfolding on the ground below. I noted the lunch menu:
Hawaiian chicken sandwich, macaroni salad, strawberry pudding cake,
choice of beverage. Stewards offered beverages, but lunch didn't
I wasn't hungry anyway. My stomach was in my throat. Grainy TV footage
showed the airplane that smacked into the World Trade Center and burst
into a fireball.
Disbelieving cries of "Oh my God" rippled through the cabins, over and
For the next two hours, local TV broadcasts brought a torrent of
horrible news. All airports were shut down. The Treasury Department,
Congress, the State Department were evacuated. The Pentagon was burning.
Another plane was down in Pennsylvania. One tower collapsed. Then the
other fell. No one dared try to measure the loss of life.
And Bush was in an airplane, up among the clouds.
For nearly two hours we speculated about where we might be, Kansas,
Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky. White House aides asked us to refrain from
using our cell phones and pagers so the signals wouldn't alert
terrorists to the president's whereabouts.
Finally, we touched down at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., apparently
chosen at random. Our greeters were a few soldiers in camouflage
fatigues, toting machine guns and officers in blue uniforms. We watched
Bush go into a building to make phone calls before addressing the nation
from the general's conference center. We debated how we might divide our
duties should White House pare down Bush's entourage to fit inside a
The White House decided for us that our group of 12 would shrink to
five: CBS cameraman George Christian, Ann Compton from ABC Radio, AP
photographer Doug Mills, CBS sound technician Erick Washington and
myself. The rest would go back to Washington on a support plane.
We spread out in the press cabin, awaiting word on where we were going,
what Bush was doing. Our destination was Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., so
Bush could go to the U.S. Strategic Command for a national security
briefing. Only then would we return to Washington.
Apparently, Bush's impromptu hopscotch across America was designed to
give his national security team time to assess the danger he faced.
Chatting with White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on that third flight,
I realized an odd bit of trivia. Six years ago Tuesday, I'd reported to
the White House for my first day as a reporter there.
"Some anniversary party you threw," Fleischer quipped. We laughed
nervously, then went to the cabin across the aisle for a glimpse of the
F-16 escort that hovered above our left wing.
(c) 2001 AP Reposted For Fair Use Only
Subscribe to our newsletter at http://emperor.vwh.net/MailList/index.php Receive about one article/day.
This Website is mirrored at http://emperor.vwh.net/ and at http://globalresistance.com