September 11th, 2001:
I was aboard a plane that was taking a group of 200+ special needs children to Disney World in Florida. The trip was supposed to be maybe 12 hours? I can’t really recall that detail, strangely enough. All I know is that we were supposed to fly there have a fun filled day in the land of Walt Disney, and then fly back home – Well things didn’t go as planned.
I was 12 at the time so I didn’t really take notice of everything around me, or the exact time that we took off. I know it was well before the towers fell though, and I heard later on that we were actually in the air as events were unfolding in New York, and quite possibly Washington as well. I recall hearing someone mention Washington, but I didn’t really take notice until after, when I started piecing the events together in my mind that I recalled hearing something about Washington.
It wasn’t until after we landed that we were told about the attacks. Disney World had been closed down, for fear that it may be a target, no one knew what else might be attacked next, really, or if they had really stopped.
US airspace had been closed and there was no way we were getting on a plane and just heading back to Canada. As I said before, this was supposed to be a short, day-long trip. We didn’t have extra clothes, or anything like that, and we didn’t even have anywhere to stay!
After what seemed like hours on a tour bus, we were all booked rooms along with our chaperones (I think they were Rotarians?) at a Radisson, thank God for that. Now some kids on this trip were quite severely physically and mentally challenged. Many required special medication, or even something as simple as extra diapers or extra clothing, because they only had enough to last a few hours.
I’m not quite sure what channels the organizers had to go through, but the kids in need got the medications they required, and all was well on that front after a few hours it seemed.
That first night, I remember watching the news and crying myself to sleep unsure of just about everything. Here I was, a 12 year old kid stuck in another country without my parents, without knowing what was going to happen, if I was ever going to see home again or if there was going to be another terrorist attack, and if I was going to die.
K-Mart came to the rescue and donated a bunch of clothing and other necessary essentials – I think that was one the 12th. Over the days that we were stuck at the hotel we had Disney characters come in, we had boy scouts come and play with us, a church choir came in to sing to us, I mean I guess it was fun in a way.
We even had off duty or plain-cloches police officers around the hotel and around us – to this day I’m not sure if it was just for companionship or security reasons. I went touring around the hotel and ate dinner with two officers, at the time I thought that was really neat. When I was younger, I’d always wished I could grow up and become a cop, so that’s probably why it was so much fun for me.
All fun moments aside, at the end of each day I just watched more news and wanted to get home so badly. I was always a smart kid, took notice of a lot and was very bright. So it was hard to keep anything from me, I knew what I saw and heard and unlike the children with developmental disabilities, I knew what was going on and was very concerned.
Needless to say, we eventually made it home after a few days of being stranded. I was told that our flight was one of the first out after they re-opened US airspace and that we had an escort on our wing until we got back into the Canadian skies.
I know my story isn’t near like what the families of victims and emergency or military personnel experienced, but for me, I’ll always have a connection to 9/11 and especially to Americans that felt scared and helpless after those cowardly and evil attacks. I felt their pain and their fear for those days I was stranded.
I will always be grateful for the kindness that was shown to me and my group by strangers even when their own world must have seemed so upside down and scary.