Sky Talk

9/11: On a mountaintop

Jim Thomas, American Airlines managing director of flight training and standards, remembers the day of the attack in the 9/11Memorial Garden at the American Airlines Flight Training Academy, Friday, September 9, 2016.
Jim Thomas, American Airlines managing director of flight training and standards, remembers the day of the attack in the 9/11Memorial Garden at the American Airlines Flight Training Academy, Friday, September 9, 2016. rmallison@star-telegram.com

Standing on a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado on Sept. 11, Jim Thomas and his three hiking buddies, all commercial pilots, wondered why there were no planes flying.

Thomas, a check airman pilot for American, was celebrating another pilot’s birthday as part of the group’s annual backpacking trip.

“We’re at the top of this mountain taking pictures and one of us looks up and happens to comment that usually we’d see at least one airplane,” Thomas said. “We commented we don’t see a single airplane in the sky and never thought a thing about it.”

For the next few days, with no cell phone reception, the pilots camped in the Colorado wilderness, oblivious to what had happened in New York and Washington, D.C.

“When we started coming down the mountain, we noticed that farm houses had flags flying at half mast and then we started getting cell service and here were all these messages from family members,” Thomas said. Sitting in a hotel room in Denver, the four men saw the video replays of the towers collapsing.

Now, Thomas is managing director of flight standard and training at American. Since the attacks, pilot training includes more security classes, and pilots are given actual scenarios and self-defense training in how to defend the cockpit.

He plans to attend Sunday’s anniversary ceremony at the 9/11 Flight Crew Memorial in Grapevine to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks.

“You look back all these years later and think. what would their families look like today if that had never happened?” Thomas said. “What would be different in their lives? That sticks out more than anything to me.”

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

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