Steve Wade was the new guy at the Boston pilot base, having only flown out of that city for a couple of weeks.
On the morning of Sept. 11, he met up with his captain and other pilots, along with those working Flight 11, to get flight plans and crew messages as they prepared to head out.
“We taxi out in a conga line, including Flight 11, and we take off to head to San Juan and they take off to go to Los Angeles,” Wade said, recalling the morning routine.
Since his flight path would take the Boeing 757 over the Atlantic Ocean towards Puerto Rico, the pilots were soon out of communication range, relying on long-range radios for any messages they might need from air traffic control. Wade said the first indication something had happened came in a cryptic message from dispatch that said an aircraft had hit the World Trade Center and a flight attendant was hurt. Then a pilot on a KLM flight heading to the U.S. said an airliner had run into the tower.
“I kind of remember writing it off as a fluke, then 15 to 20 minutes later this same KLM pilot said a second plane hit the towers,” Wade said. “We were on this air-to-air frequency and people were in disbelief that this is happening.”
The captain on the flight, who was from New York, decided to use the plane’s A.M. frequency to pick up a radio station in New York.
“It sounded like ‘War off the Worlds,’ you couldn’t understand what was happening,” Wade said, adding that he could see New York off in the distance out of his right side window but he couldn’t see any smoke.
A British Airways pilot later came on the frequency and told them another plane had hit the Pentagon. When they were finally in range of Bermuda, Wade said, they could contact dispatch at American, about an hour and a half into their flight. Dispatchers told them to keep going to San Juan because they might need the aircraft there for a flight the next day.
“When we touched down [in San Juan], the eerie part was the terminal. Every jet bridge was pulled away from the terminal. No traffic. No noise. No anything,” Wade said.