First Officer Jesse Evans had spent a wonderful 30-hour layover in Paris with his wife and was ready to head back to Chicago.
With a Boeing 767-300 full of passengers, Evans was a couple of hours into the ten-hour flight, about to enter an area where there is no radar coverage and no data links, when the cockpit received a text message from American’s dispatch that said “one of our airplanes hit the World Trade Center.”
“I was angry at dispatch. I thought no one had some measure of decorum...so I sent them a message back and said ‘that’s not funny,’” Evans said. But then he pulled up the status reports on New York’s airports, which indicated they were closed. “For all three airports to be closed in the busiest air space in the world, I knew something terrible had happened.”
Evans and the captain decided to turn around and head for Paris, even though they could have landed in Dublin or London. They didn’t tell the passengers what was happening as they dumped fuel and turned the plane around.
“We did every emergency checklist that we had for any kind of threat, bomb threat, any kind of hazard,” Evans said. “We had no specific threat on our airplane but we simply took every precaution.”
At about 2,000 feet, prior to landing in Paris, Evans said they told the passengers there had been an attack. When they arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, the plane was met by commandos with machine guns, Evans remembered.
For the next few days, Evans and his wife were stranded in Paris, unsure when they would be able to return to their home in Atlanta where grandparents were watching their young children.
“My lasting impression was how wonderful the French were to us in those days when we were trapped there, unable to get home,” Evans said.