I Thought the World was Ending — Sept. 11, 2001

 

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A model of the New York City skyline — including the Twin Towers. (Photo by: Mike Mills/TU Student)
           BALTIMOREBernadette Goodfellow stood at the entrance of the galley welcoming each passenger into first class. A flight attendant since July 1991 – first class was a rank Bernadette had worked hard to attain. With the ice already crushed, Goodfellow offered each first class passenger a pre-flight drink. Customer service was of the utmost importance. Reading the passenger list, Bernadette played word association games to remember the last names of the people she’d be serving throughout the flight.

“The one I’ll never forget,” Goodfellow said. “They were dressed very nice – nice dress pants, dress shirt. The one had such a complicated foreign name that there was no trying to even call him by name. I referred to him as sir, but the one across him had an easy name. He was Mr. Atta. Mohamed Atta. I would think of the expression ‘Atta boy’ to remember his name.”

Mr. Atta sat in first class with a couple of men who Bernadette presumed were business associates. Terrorism never crossed the mind of anyone during that period in time. Goodfellow looked on as the men took notes on a yellow notepad. The men spoke to each other in their native tongue.

“He was very pleasant,” Goodfellow said. “I can still see his face. Dark eyes – very striking appearance. You were drawn to him. A cross between attractive and scary at the same time. Very dark wavy hair. It’s a face I’ll never forget.”

OMAHA, Neb. – The alarm on the wooden nightstand rang incessantly until Bernadette extended her hand over the top of the clock and ended the thunderous ringing. It was around 8 a.m. She was on a layover and was due to fly out in a few hours. Goodfellow was unaware that she was waking up to the most horrific day in the history of the United States – Sept. 11, 2001.

 

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Bernadette Goodfellow sits 16 years later with “SkyWord Magazine” and a “Flight Attendants coping with trauma” pamphlet. (Photo by: Mike Mills/TU Student)
            After a quick shower, Bernadette laid out her neatly pressed flight attendant uniform across the bed. Like any other morning, she picked up the remote and turned to the “Today Show”. Goodfellow tuned in just in time to see her world crumble around her.

“I was shocked and horrified,” Goodfellow said. “I thought that the world was coming to an end. I knew this was something of a huge magnitude.”

A plane pummeled into the second tower of the World Trade Center. An orange ball of fire illuminated the bright morning sky. As pedestrians watched in horror, debris rained down on the New York City streets.  All flights were grounded indefinitely. Like many others, Goodfellow would have to find another way home. Thousands of others would never have the chance to find a way home.

“I called the union hotline that all flight attendants were a part of,” Goodfellow said. “A prerecorded message told all crew members that we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon on planes. We should try and find a way home anyway we could – by rental car, bus, cab, or train.”

Rental cars sold out quick, and Bernadette was stranded over 1,000 miles away from home. Fortunately, her brother-in-law had gotten a rental car and was in route from a business trip in Denver. Bernadette left Omaha on a road of uncertainty. Her head pounded relentlessly and tears filled her eyes. Every now and then the tears would gain enough weight to stream down Bernadette’s face. The days were long and silence filled the rental car. The peacefulness of the Midwestern roads was eerie in the wake of the day’s events. Over the course of the drive, Goodfellow would learn more details about the flights that went down that day.

“I heard about one flight that originated from Washington Dulles, which I flew out of many times,” Bernadette said. “I heard that a plane went into the Pentagon, and they said it was flight 77 out of Washington Dulles. That was very upsetting considering I had worked that flight many times. I had yet to find out what crew was working that flight.”

In her rental car, Bernadette continued the long lonely road for home. It’s not until she was on the Pennsylvania turnpike that Bernadette pulled out her ancient emergency cellphone to dial the union hotline one more time. Tears stream down her face and her voice gets choked up as she recounts what she heard on the phone 16 years ago.

“I found out one flight attendant on flight 77 was a girl I knew very well – Renee May,” Bernadette said. “We flew together a lot because she was near my same seniority, so we had similar schedules. She’d been over my house. I took her to karaoke for the first time… She apparently was the first class flight attendant that had to deal with the hijackers.”

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The pamphlet from Renee May’s funeral service. (Photo by: Mike Mills/TU Student)

Tears poured out endlessly from the corner of Bernadette’s eyes as she made her way back to Baltimore. She recalls the now deceased crew that she had flown with on multiple occasions – the gay pilot who was the nicest guy in the world, the married flight attendant couple that went by the pet name ‘Kennifer’, and her dear friend Renee May who was an independent free spirit that spent her free time giving tours at the Walter’s Art Gallery. The terror flight 77 faced haunted Bernadette for years.

“I put myself in her position being in that jump seat and having two hijackers attack her and the horror she [Renee May] must’ve faced,” Bernadette said. “This is still very raw for me. This is called PTSD.”

Bernadette sits vividly shaken and choked up. She reaches for the tissues before she can continue. After making it back to a somber BWI Airport, Goodfellow makes the emotional ride home.

“When I pulled up in front of my townhouse with my uniform on and my packed flight attendant bags, it was very emotional,” Bernadette said. “Some of the neighbors came over and hugged me. There were a lot of tears shed.”

Although safe in her own home, the images from Sept. 11, 2001 haunted Bernadette. Survivor’s guilt plagued her for years. Renee May’s memory stuck with Bernadette but so did the fear she must have faced in her final moments. It would be months before Bernadette returned to the air. Even with heightened airport security, fear took the fun out of flying.

“I still didn’t feel safe,” Bernadette said. “I still think there were many lapses in security.” “When I went back to work a couple months later, I was so paranoid of everybody who looked the way they looked – with the dark skin and dark eyes and Muslim appearance. I knew flight attendants who got off flights and refused to work them because they were suspicious of people. You walked up and down the aisle like a policewoman just watching out for people. It really wasn’t fun anymore.

Bernadette would finally resign from her flight attendant duties in 2004. She would go on to work as a secretary, realtor, and a pet sitter. No matter how many times the calendar changes, Sept. 11, 2001 will always feel like yesterday for Bernadette Goodfellow.

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