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Udo
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Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Fri Sep 05, 2003 7:26 am

With the 2nd anniversary of 9/11 coming I often think of my failed trip to LAX which took place on exactly that day. I have never written a report about it, though I have often told it to friends. Since I found some time to write I have decided to post the report finally. I might not be able to remember all details, but most of it is still present in my memory as if it happened yesterday.


MUC-CDG, 11.09.2001
AF 1223, 07.10-08.50
Airbus A320-211, F-GFKV Ville de Bordeaux, (built 1991; msn 227)



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Photo © Laurent FAURE




After visiting my friends in Los Angeles in 2000 I decided to go again one year later. Air France had a good offer and so I took the chance and booked in the beginning of June 2001. I chose Air France in order to fly the B777-200ER (I had only flown B777 non-ERs) and to get the CRJ. The CRJ of British European was scheduled to operate CDG-Nuremberg and I booked that leg for the return trip. However, departure point was Munich on A320 so that I would have enough time for spotting at CDG. Sure, I had hoped for the A320-100, but I knew my chances were not good.
On departure day I arrived at MUC early, I still remember check in was fast and AF staff was friendly. For the LAX flight I chose a window seat in the second last row on the Triple Seven. Only minutes later I had passed through security and I walked to my gate.
The evening before I had already checked MUC arrivals on TV text and I knew I would only get a A320-200, not the -100 I had hoped for. So there was nothing spectacular about my aircraft, F-GFKV.
Departure was on time, and after take off I enjoyed the cloudless scenery en route to CDG. Breakfast was served, or better: what they called breakfast. They offered croissants, juice and coffee. Well, French breakfast...
Arrival was on time as well, even a bit early. We arrived at Terminal 2A, the LAX flight was scheduled to depart from 2F. In order to be able to log as many registrations as possible at CDG, I had chosen the second LAX flight, AF 068 at 14:00. The first flight, AF 062 already departed at 10:00. Too early for me! I wanted to start my spotting tour at Terminal 2A/C but when I tried to enter the gate area I was sent away: passengers are only allowed to enter the departure hall where the very own flight would actually depart.
So I went on to hall 2F where all different kinds of AF longhaul aircraft were parked. I took a seat and found out it was a nice place. I got almost all departing aircraft on the southern runway and also most arrivals on that side. Additionally, quite many aircraft taxied around.
Some minutes after 10:00 I watched AF 062 leaving the gate. I also remember that CO's B777 New York 2000 passed Hall 2F that day.


CDG-CDG (org. CDG-LAX), 11.09.2001
AF 068, 14.00-18.00
Boeing 777-228ER, F-GSPD, (built 1998; msn 187)



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The hours passed very fast and at around 13:00 boarding calls for AF 068 were started. I soon realized that we had to enter one of the famous ADP busses which can be moved up to the aircraft so that passengers don't have to enter on stairs.
I spotted the aircraft was F-GSPD today, and as usual when entering a B777 on a remote stand, one can only stare at the huge engine...especially when it's a GE90 monster. I soon took my seat and I was very impressed by AF's nice interior. Blue comfortable seats with PTVs, so what else do you need? Next to me an older French couple took their seats. They were very nice, after realizing I was German they started to speak German, very well indeed, and the answer is they were from Alsace-Lorraine.
Though all passengers were seated a short delay was announced. On the left side of the rear Economy section four window rows had been flattened and a kind of bed with a curtain had been installed. Soon we knew why, an older sick man was brought to the aircraft in an ambulance. It took around 20 minutes until the man was laid down safely. A younger woman accompanied and him and took care of him, probably his daughter or a nurse.
Doors were closed and engines started, and 15 minutes later we lined up for take off. After only some minutes the two GE monster accelerated the aircraft and we took off for LAX. At that point of time it was around 14:00 at CDG, 08:00 o'clock in New York...
I was looking forward so much to Los Angeles and my friends and I really enjoyed the flight. I tried out several games, I chose my lunch, and I already had earmarked two movies. I was sure that the next 11 hours would be over very fast and I was already thinking of many upcoming spotting days at LAX.Two hours had passed very fast, and after leaving behind the last Northwestern British isles lunch was served.
Even today it's still very hard to imagine that within these two hours the whole catastrophe with all its horror took place...

Suddenly, all channels were interrupted as the captain addressed the passengers. First, he said it in French and I didn't understand what he had said - but I saw the reaction of the two flight attendants who were serving meals - the expression of their faces showed they must have been quite confused. Then my two neighbors talked to each other and also didn't seem to feel comfortable. And then he said it in English..."we have to turn back to Paris, the American airspace is closed" "WHAT?" In the first moment I was just totally confused and I didn't know what to think about that information - can that be true or not? I asked my neighbor, and he wasn't sure either. He said "no, the captain must be joking". I cannot remember how long I talked to my neighbor without looking out of the window, but when I looked at my PTV flight map I suddenly saw that the small aircraft image already pointing at Paris!!! However, I hadn't felt the aircraft turning - so intensively I must have been under the impression of the captain's announcement. I still refused to believe that we flew back, but then I got the final confirmation: a thick, white fountain suddenly sprayed out of the wing tip and I knew what it meant: fuel dump! The captain later announced that 40 tons of jet fuel had to be dumped.
On the TVs our arrival time at CDG was shown as 18:00, almost two hours to go. People were talking to each other, no matter if they knew each other or not. I talked to my neighbors and we tried to guess what could have caused the American airspace to be closed. What the hell could cause such a measure? A military strike seemed very unlikely, and so did a natural disaster. I remembered two days ago there was a light earthquake in California -probably the long awaited big one? But that wouldn't have affected the East Coast...well, we just didn't know. I realized the News channel in the entertainment program was off line...very strange I thought. Some time later a French man obviously had called from the plane and I heard him saying something like "Twin Towers, boom..." then I concluded the WTC must have been affected, but I rather thought of an attack as it took place in 1993...
However, I then started thinking of my trip. What would happen in Paris? When would we be able to go on? I thought of my two very heavy cases and how difficult it would be to carry all my stuff around. I walked to the galley and asked a flight attendant if they knew what would happene in Paris. I asked him so many questions, but he couldn't help me. He said he doesn't know what would happen on the ground. "I wish I could answer, but I just don't know either", he replied.
Meal service was continued, but I couldn't really enjoy it any more. Nobody knew what really had happened, but the atmosphere on board was tense.

At around 18:00 we had started our final approach to CDG and minutes later the aircraft touched down very hard - with both thrust reverser and brakes fully deployed afterwards. That definitely was a landing at heavy weight!
We taxied to a gate at Hall 2F and I saw some American aircraft parked - with police cars and guards surrounding them. I was still hoping that we might be able to depart again later today - but then cargo doors were opened and the aircraft was unloaded. There was an announcement that passengers should follow AF staff in the terminal, they would show the way to the baggage claim. Oh my god, I thought, with so many aircraft obviously in the same situation there must be a chaos in the hall - and it was. Since I had had some bad experience with AF in the past I wasn't sure if they would handle the chaos well, such as talking not only French - for that reason I just stayed with the French couple. It was a good decision: there were three flights assigned to one baggage carousel - and it would have been a serious problem to take care of one case and trying to catch the other. So we watched our cases each other and soon had our luggage.
We were then guided to the check in area in Hall 2F were hundreds, maybe thousands of people ran around like ants. Uncountable AF employees were in action, and many of them must have been called in on short notice - many wore regular clothes with AF IDs attached.
In front of each counter there were endless queues and the only thing we could do was to wait in row. Meanwhile two Germans from Stuttgart stood next to me, they had also been en route to LAX. I asked them what had happened, but they didn't know exactly. I remember one saying: "Three aircraft seem to have crashed at Los Angeles". I was quite shocked, though I couldn't really believe it.
I guess two hours must have passed until I arrived at the counter. Shortly after arrival I was full of hope that I might stay in a hotel for two days and go on to LAX. But then I started to realize that all the hotels must be full with Americans unable to fly home. And indeed, at the counter the AF employee said they just didn't know when US airspace would reopen again. "It can be two days, it can be ten days" he said. "What we can offer you is a return flight to Germany". "Or you can wait". Well, I decided to go home since I didn't know what was going on. Originally my return flight was booked to Nuremberg, but the last flight to NUE had already departed. So I was offered one of only few remaining seats on the late evening service to MUC. After receiving the ticket I was really glad that I could escape from all the chaos and the stress. The French couple had in the meantime watched my cases because it would have been impossible to take them to the counter.
I said thanks and good bye to them and started running to Hall 2A were my MUC flight would depart some 45 minutes later. At a counter in Hall 2A I checked in fast, and I was very impressed how friendly and helpful all the AF staff were.
After receiving my boarding pass there were about 30 more minutes until departure, but I still had to call home to make sure someone can pick me up at MUC later. Of course, I had left my mobile phone at home, I didn't have French money (thank god we have the Euro now) and didn't have a calling card.
So I asked at a AF counter where I could get a telephone card. However, a very friendly AF lady gave me her personal telephone card and explained how to use it. I first called my parents but as usual in such a case, nobody was at home. I called my brother, and after trying several times I finally got him. He first asked "Where are you?" "Have you heard what happened?" I said "No, not really". "The World Trade Center collapsed after two plane crashed into it and another one crashed into the Pentagon!" I couldn't say anything, I was paralysed with horror. I took a while until I could say something. Still confused, I then told him that I would fly to MUC now and someone should pick me up.


CDG-MUC, 11.09.2001
AF 1222, 21.15-22.45
Airbus A320-111, F-GFKQ Ville de Berlin (built 1987, msn 002)



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After hanging up it still took me some minutes to digest the news and I then I walked through security. For the first time in my life, I didn't think about the upcoming aircraft, I always had to think of what had happened.
When I entered the gate area I realized that the flight was delayed by 30 minutes, obviously due to an aircraft change. It was very dark outside, I only saw an A320 parked at the gate, with cargo doors closed and the jetway away from the aircraft. I was expecting that they tow it away but then they started working on it. It seemed to be this flight's aircraft and for my statistics I went closer to read the registration. I saw KQ on the gear door...and slower as usual I started thinking...GFKQ...I then turned my head and looked at the wings - and indeed winglets were missing. I then remembered why I had KQ in my memory: it was the second built A320 series aircraft - the oldest one in active service (prototype 001 never has left Airbus). I couldn't believe I would fly that very special aircraft on such a day - I definitely couldn't enjoy it at all. Well, later of course I was glad being able to add it to my "flown list". Though it will always be connected with that sad day.
The flight itself was not very spectacular. The atmosphere on board was very strange, it was quiet all over, all passengers seemed to be shocked by what had happened. After eating a quite generous dinner I fell asleep until shortly before touch down.
I was glad my two cases had arrived as well, regarding the chaos at CDG. My brother picked me up and so I went home after that very uncommon roundtrip.


At home I called my American friends. They had called Air France all day to find out where my flight had been sent to. They told me AF062 which left at 10:00 had diverted to Montreal...so I was really glad I had chosen AF068. Thanks to my hobby!
Btw, the next day I called Air France and they offered me the full fare or another flight. First, I booked another flight one week later since I really wanted to visit my friends. However, I realized that spotting and everything connected to it would be impossible...so I decided to cancel, take the money and book one year later...


Regards
Udo
Me & You & a Plane Named Blue...
 
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STT757
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Fri Sep 05, 2003 12:39 pm

Thanks for sharing this, although it brings back memories and makes the hair on my arm stick up while reading.

I hope you got to go back to Los Angeles, I just got back from Southern California and had the best vacation EVER!

I hope you too will get to go back to California again, and again and have as much fun as I have had.

Again thanks for sharing your memories of that day,

Tom.
Eastern Air lines flt # 701, EWR-MCO Boeing 757
 
Mexicana757
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Fri Sep 05, 2003 1:13 pm

Udo

Thanks for sharing this report.
 
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Fri Sep 05, 2003 6:46 pm

Very nice report . I feel very touched reading your report . So did you go to LAX one year later ?


Charles
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StarFlyer
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Fri Sep 05, 2003 8:01 pm

Udo, one of the best reports I have read! I always wondered what it would have been like to have been flying to the US on 9/11. You captured the whole atmosphere and chaos really well.
Good for you that you met those 2 French people. I can imagine they were of big help.
I flew on F-GFKD a few years back, another A320-111, but I have to say I didnt notice anything special!  Insane
Sad but understandable you couldnt really enjoy your flight aboard one of these rare aircraft!
Thanks again for sharing this with us!
Yours truly - StarFlyer
 
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Fri Sep 05, 2003 9:02 pm

Thanks for this report. Please support our country by coming back to see us no matter were you go, the American People will appreciate it.
 
mt99
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Fri Sep 05, 2003 11:39 pm

Udo..

I was part of the same mess you describe in Hall 2F. However, i ended up spending 4 extra nghts in Paris. I can understand what you went trhough.

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TriStar500
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Sat Sep 06, 2003 2:25 am

Udo,
Thank you very much for this report. You have described the initial athmosphere of fear and confusion very intensely. Although I was lucky not to be travelling on that terrible day, I vividly remeber how totally confused myself and everyone else I spoke to was during the first few hours.
Homer: Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!
 
AirVB
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Sat Sep 06, 2003 8:01 am

Udo,
That was a fantastic piece of writing, and it brings back memories of the tragic day alongside a new perspective of actually being on a foreign (for me) airline inbound to the U.S. and stranded. Thanks again for sharing your special story.

AirVB
 
atrude777
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Sat Sep 06, 2003 12:02 pm

This is a very good trip report!!!

Deinetly brough memories and mist to my eyes and mind. As I was flying just two motnhs before it happened I always wondered what if...anyways, thanks for sharing it also..


Alex.
Good things come to those who wait, better things come to those who go AFTER it!
 
Udo
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Sat Sep 06, 2003 8:01 pm

Thanks for all your comments!

Yes, of course I made my way to the US later. I spent one week in Florida in March 02 (pure spotting vacation) and finally visited my friends in Los Angeles in September last year. I didn't fly on the 11th, but on the 6th that time. Not because I was feared of flying itself, but I wanted to avoid a travel date too close to the 11th due to my permanent aircraft spotting...

Mt99, which flight had you booked on 9/11?


Regards
Udo
Me & You & a Plane Named Blue...
 
godbless
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Sun Sep 07, 2003 8:05 am

I can absolutly relate to the atmosphere you wrote about eventhough I was not flying that day. Every person I saw on September 11, 2001 was totally in shock.
Thank you for sharing your story of the flight on 9/11.

I was kinda reminded of this picture while reading:

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Max
 
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Sun Sep 07, 2003 10:05 am

Great report, made the hair on my arms stand up, I lost 8 friends that day, 1 into the WTC, the rest into the Pentagon...
 
N751PR
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Sun Sep 07, 2003 11:18 am

Very good report, Udo. Never really read reports about how it was when flying during 9/11 until now. Along with the others, thanks for sharing this one with us.  Smile

BTW Godbless, I was reminded of that picture while reading the report as well.
"Ladies and Gentlemen it's happy hour. You will get two approaches for the price of one."
 
TP343
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Sun Sep 07, 2003 11:24 pm

Udo,

Very interesting and realistic flight report indeed.

Best Regards,

TP343, São Paulo, Brazil.
 
mt99
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Mon Sep 08, 2003 7:52 am

I cant remember if the flight number.. It was either Air France 51, 55 or 50. It was the one scheduled to leave at 4PM. We were on the tarmac with the doors closed.. i was eyeing the row behind me, since it was empty.. but

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cedarjet
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Mon Sep 08, 2003 8:14 am

Thanks for putting this up, very interesting. I'm starting to think 9/11 will never lose it's ability to really horrify me.
fly Saha Air 707s daily from Tehran's downtown Mehrabad to Mashhad, Kish Island and Ahwaz
 
Airdolomiti
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Tue Sep 09, 2003 7:05 am

Very interesting report, it must have been quite something!! I was on an exchange to England with my school on 9/11, having flown in the day before, and I did notice a big difference in security measures when I flew back. I think there was the danger of more attacks, in London, so no one went there in the weekend as had been planned. I myself couldn't believe what had happened when I got a SMS with the news, so I can imagine what it must have been like for you to go through all that ordeal while flying!

On a different note, I also flew on F-GFKQ last year, my only A320-100 so far - never realized it was the oldest A320 in service though!  Smile/happy/getting dizzy

Federico
 
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Mon Sep 15, 2003 7:28 am

Thankyou or posting this report Udo.
 
The777Man
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RE: Two Years Ago: En Route To LAX On 9/11

Mon Sep 15, 2003 12:10 pm

Thanks for the interesting report Udo! Brings back memories of that very sad day........

The777Man
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