Sept. 11, 2001 began as a normal late summer work day for me. I had a full schedule of meetings, beginning with the Nassau County comptroller, then with clients, the Patchogue Business Improvement District and ending with an evening event at the Vanderbilt with the Long Island Advertising Club.
It was a little past nine that morning when, as I was knotting my tie and listening to IMUS in the Morning, my son came into my bedroom and asked if I saw that a plane hit the World Trade Center Tower. I quickly turned on the television to see smoke billowing from the tower, just below Windows on The World where I had lunch with my wife years before. I listened as reporters struggled to explain what had happened. Then, with television cameras pointed at the first tower I saw the second plane hit the second tower. If that was not shocking enough, the description of the events on IMUS by sportscaster Warner Wolf, who heard the plane fly just above his Manhattan apartment before it hit the first tower, was even more so.
Then came word that a plane was heading toward the Pentagon; and indeed, the Pentagon was hit. Then in Shanksville, Pa., a United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after a valiant effort by passengers to gain control of the plane. For someone who would rather drive than take a plane, the horror and the lives lost became personal to me. But I had no idea how personal it was to become.
As the events of 9/11 became clearer, I wondered about Flight 93 and how the courageous passengers would fly the plane if they were successful in gaining control. It was two days later that I got the answer. One of the passengers on Flight 93 was someone I had worked with a short four years earlier, and who I had developed a friendship.
Donald Greene was traveling to a family reunion. Donnie was an aviation expert, a licensed pilot and CEO of the White Plains, New York Safe-Flight Instrument Company, a manufacturer of component parts for an airborne windshear detection and warning system and an automatic aircraft wing ice sensor and heater for melting the detected ice. Both were invented by his father Leonard Greene. I met Donnie while I was a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Socioeconomic Studies, a think tank founded by Leonard.
Flight 93 resonated since the passengers knew what was ahead for them, having heard via cell phones what had happened at the World Trade Center. With Donnie on the plane, I was certain he would serve to pilot the plane to safety had the passengers prevailed.
As days passed and the images of trucks hauling debris to Staten Island, first responders trying to find survivors, hospitals waiting for the injured that were not to be found, and acrid smoke from the burning buildings that wafted across Long Island, it was hard to ignore that life would never be the same again.
Martin Cantor is director of the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy and a former Suffolk County economic development commissioner. He can be reached at [email protected]
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