July 14, 2006

A Delta Pilots War On Terror View

I received this as a email, it's a story by Pat Gilmore. He is a retired Delta Pilot and his memory of his run in with Mohammad Atta.

Mohammad Atta was in my Cockpit Jump-seat This is the response from a
retired Delta pilot in response to questions about whether he was going
to see UAL 93. I haven't seen the movie, yet, but I intend to when I
get the chance. Retirement has made me busier than ever, and I haven't
had the chance to see many movies lately. As a Delta B-767 captain
myself at the time of the attacks on 9/11, I was in crew rest in Orlando
that morning. I had just turned on the TV in my hotel room only to see
the WTC tower on fire, then saw the second airplane hit the other tower.
My immediate reaction was "T errorists...we're at war", followed by the
realization that we airline crewmembers had all dodged a bullet; it
could have been any one of us flying those planes. As soon as the news
stations flashed the first pictures of the terrorists, I knew just how
close and personal the bullet I dodged was.

There, on the screen for all
to see, was a man who had sat in my jump-seat the previous July. His
name was Mohammad Atta, the leader of the terrorist hijackers. Mr. Atta
had boarded my flight from Baltimore to Atlanta on July 26, 2001 wearing
an American Airlines first officer uniform. He had the corresponding AA
company ID identifying him as a pilot, not to mention the required FAA
pilot license and medical certificate that he was required to show me
as proof of his aircrew status for access to my jump-seat. An airline
pilot riding a cockpit jump-seat is a long established protocol among the
airlines of the world, a courtesy extended by the management and
captains of one airline to pilots and flight attendants of other airlines in
recognition of their aircrew status. My admission of Mohammad Atta to
my cockpit jump-seat that day was merely a routine exercise of this
protocol. Something seemed a bit different about this jump-seat rider,
though, because in my usual course of conversation with him as we reached
cruise altitude he avoided all my questions about his personal life and
focused very intently upon the cockpit instruments and our operation of
the aircraft. I asked him what he flew at American and he said,
"These", but he asked incessant questions about how we did this or why we did
that. I said, "This is a 767. They all operate the same way." But he
said, "No, we operate them differently at American." That seemed very
strange, because I knew better. I asked him about his background, and he
admitted he was from Saudi Arabia. I asked him when he came over to this
country and he said "A couple of years ago.", to which I asked, "Are
you a US citizen?" He said no. I also found that very strange because I
know that in order to have an Airline Transport Pilot rating, the rating
required to be an airline captain, one has to be a US citizen, and
knowing the US airlines and their hiring process as I do, I found it hard
to believe that American Airlines would hire a non-US citizen who
couldn't upgrade to captain when the time came. He said, "The rules have
changed.", which I also knew to be untrue. Besides, he was just, shall I
say, "Creepy"? My copilot and I were both glad to get rid of this guy
when we got to Atlanta. There was nothing to indicate, though, that he
was anything other than who or what he said he was, because he had the
documentation to prove who he was. In retrospect, we now know his uniform
was stolen and his documents were forged. Information later came to
light as to how this was done. It seems that Mohammad Atta and his
cronies had possibly stolen pilot uniforms and credentials from hotel rooms
during the previous year. We had many security alerts at the airline to
watch out for our personal items in hotel rooms because these were
mysteriously disappearing, but nobody knew why. Atta and his men used these
to make dry runs prior to their actual hijackings on 9/11. How do I
know? I called the FBI as soon as I saw his face on the TV that day, and
the agent on the other end of the line took my information and told me
I'd hear back from them when all the dust settled. A few weeks later I
got a letter from the Bureau saying that my call was one of at least
half a dozen calls that day from other pilots who had had the same
experience. Flights were being selected at random to make test runs for
accessing the cockpit. It seems we had all dodged bullets. Over the years my
attitude towards the War Against Terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq have been known to be on the red neck, warmongering,
rah-rah-shoot-em-up side of things. I've been known to lose my patience with
those who say the war in Iraq or anywhere else in the Muslim world is
wrong, or who say we shouldn't become involved in that area of the world
for political correctness reasons. Maybe it's because I dodged the bullet
so closely back in 2001 that I feel this way. I have very little
patience for political rhetoric or debate against this war because for a
couple of hours back in July 2001, when I was engaged in conversation with
a major perpetrator in this war, I came so close to being one of its
victims that I can think in no other terms. I don't mind admitting that
one of the reasons I retired early from Delta last May, other than to
protect my disappearing company retirement, was because it became harder
and harder for me to go to work every day knowing that the war wasn't
being taken seriously by the general public. The worst offenders were
the Liberal detractors to the present administration, and right or wrong,
this administration is at least taking the bull by the horns and
fighting our enemies, which is something concrete that I can appreciate.
Nobody was taking this war seriously, and it seems everyone found fault
with the US government rather than with those who attacked us. I found
that incomprehensible. I also found myself being scrutinized by TSA
screeners more and more every day when I went to work, and suffered the hu
miliating indignity of being identified about half the time for body
searches in front of the general flying public who looked at the entire
process as being ludicrous. "They don't even trust their own pilots!"
accompanied by an unbelieving snicker was the usual response. Here I was,
a retired USAF officer who had been entrusted to fly nuclear weapons
around the world, who had been granted a Top Secret clearance and had
been on missions over the course of 21 years in the military that I still
can't talk about without fear of prosecution by the DoD, who was being
scanned by a flunkie TSA screener looking for any sign of a pen knife
or nail file on my person. It wasn't until six months after my
retirement when my wife and I flew to Key West, FL last November that I was
finally able to rid myself of the visage of Mohammad Atta sitting behind
me on my jump-seat, watching my ;every action in the cockpit and willing
to slit my throat at the slightest provocation. I missed being a
headline by a mere 47 days, and could very well have been among the aircrew
casualties on 9/11 had one of my flights on my monthly schedule been a
transcontinental flight from Boston or New York to the west coast on the
11th of September. Very few people know that, while only four airliners
crashed that day, four more were targeted, and two of them were Delta
flights. The only reason these four weren't involved is because they
either had minor maintenance problems which delayed them at the gate or
they were scheduled to depart after the FAA decided to ground all
flights. They are the pilots and flight attendants who REALLY dodged the
bullet that day, and my faith in a higher power is restored as a result. I
will see United 93 when I get the chance, and I will probably enjoy the
movie for its realness and historical significance, but forgive me if I
do not embrace the Muslim world for the rest of my life. The Islamic
world is no friend of the West, and although we may be able to get along
with their governments in the future, the stated goal of Islam is world
conquest through Jihad and it is the extremist Jihadists, backed and
funded by "friendly" Moslem governments, whom we have to fear the most.
We must have a presence in the Middle East, and we must have friends in
the Middle East, even if we have to fight wars to get them. Only
someone who has dodged a bullet can fully appreciate that fact. Best to all,
Pat Gilmore

Posted by Quality Weenie at July 14, 2006 07:07 AM | TrackBack