8:40 a.m., September 11, 2001.
9:03 am, September 11, 2001.
9.37 a.m., September 11, 2001.
10:03 am, September 11, 2001.
Christie Cochran looked at two airplane stubs from that day, the first stamped for 7:30 a.m., the second for 9:40 a.m. The first time was her flight from BWI to Pittsburgh, the second time her flight left Pittsburgh for San Diego, trips she was routinely making at the time. Those times coincide with the September 11th terrorist attacks, times that are still rocking them 20 years later.
A native of Bunker Hill, Cochran was on an outing that she took often, with her routine under control, when her parents dropped her off at BWI. She was scheduled for a layover in Pittsburgh before traveling the rest of the country. But she never made it beyond Pennsylvania because all flights were suspended when hers was about to take off.
“We were taxiing so the plane was moving towards the runway so we could get out of Pittsburgh and fly to San Diego,” she said. “They came over the intercom on the plane and told us there would be a delay and we would return to the gate.”
At a time before cell phones were the key to all information and were pinned to everyone’s waist, a grumble moved among passengers as no other information was given other than the fact that there was going to be a delay and the plane was up on the way back to the gate.
“At that point we didn’t know what was going on, but in hindsight they put the flights on the ground,” said Cochran. “Honestly, everyone on the plane sighed and puffed and puffed and was upset that the flight was delayed. They had to get places and had a schedule. “
Another announcement mentioned something about an airplane and the World Trade Center, but the passengers continued to act like it was a normal day, which it still was to them.
“Neither of us thought of it,” said Cochran. “Everyone was upset and complained about the delay. “It’s awful, but what does it have to do with us? Why are we late because a plane crashed? ‘ Nobody understood what was going on. “
Cochran and her fellow travelers initially had the choice of either staying on the plane or returning to the airport, an uncertainty as to how long the delay would be. Cochran stayed on board and used the time to call her parents to let them know that she would not be in San Diego at the scheduled time.
“When I arrive in San Diego, my parents usually knew when my flight was due and I called them to let them know I was safely there,” she said. “I knew by then that I was going to be late and I didn’t want them to worry about me if I didn’t call when I should. I turned on my cell phone and called them to let them know my flight was delayed so they knew.
“I called and I will never forget that my mother answered the phone crying and crying hysterically because they had just come through the door. It took me just as long to fly from BWI to Pittsburgh as it did to get from BWI home. They had just walked in the door after dropping me off at the airport, came into the house and saw this on TV, had no idea if it was my plane or not. They just knew that I was on a plane and planes were crashing. “
The relief in her mother’s voice faded when news broke that the plane and airport were being evacuated.
Cochran was 19 and alone, with little access to the outside world.
She remembered the chaos in the airport, the normal atmosphere, reinforced by everything that was happening in the world. But amid the discord was a moment that brought the crowds together, all around the news, to see what was going on.
It was at this moment in the midst of this group of strangers that Cochran really understood the tragedy that had befallen him.
“There was a restaurant, a pub right outside the gate, and I just remember everyone huddling around each other,” she said. “’What are they all looking at?’ I stopped and looked and everyone was watching TV. At this point they showed either the impact of the second aircraft or repetitions of the impact of the aircraft. It became clear to everyone what was going on. “
Cochran’s mind wandered to baggage claim, the normal schedule, and the routine found at the Belt Offset to embody the uncertainty and chaos of the outside world.
“I remember standing there waiting for luggage, and you know the loud crash when the baggage carousel starts?” She recalled. “That happened and I just lost it. I collapsed crying because I didn’t know what that sound was. I thought something was going to happen. I was nervous. It was super scary. “
Surrounded by strangers, Cochran befriended two elderly women from Frederick, Maryland, and was convinced that she would ride with them, at least to get closer to their homeland if they found a way back. With the grounding of the aircraft, there was no access to or from the airport for shuttles or taxis and there were no more rental cars available.
“I wasn’t even old enough to rent a car anyway,” she scoffed.
In the end, Cochran managed to reach out to a friend’s boyfriend who lived in Pittsburgh and stayed there until her parents picked her up.
The memories and emotions from that day were far from over, a phone call six months later from a federal agency brought back a wave of unease.
“A gentleman introduced himself and told me a little bit about that day,” she said of the federal agent. “He asked me which seat I was sitting in, checked which seat I was sitting in, and asked me questions about people, about events that took place on the plane. He asked me if I remembered certain people sitting in certain places. “
She paused and continued, the turmoil in her eyes and voice clear, “I didn’t know anything then. I didn’t know or thought of paying attention to these things. He pretty much said that they believed there might have been terrorists on my plane. I think there were a lot more intentional things on that day that due to the rapid action and grounding of the planes, there was no way to do such things. He said they believe there were terrorists on my plane. “
Tears flowed as Cochran choked out words containing the heaviest emotions: “I was in the air in 10 minutes.”
Life went on for Cochran, who got on a plane again the following Saturday, where she needed her date in San Diego. But fear never goes away when she gets on a plane or speaks of that fateful day.
“When you look back now, it has been super life changing because it changes the way you feel and look at things, how you care about simple things now,” she said. “It was very chaotic and confusing. Nobody really knew what was going on. It still excites me to think about it. “