Category Archives: Holidays

Remembering 9/11 and December 12/23

by: Anne Haynes

It’s that time of year again when we remember those lost in 9/11. And every time this date arrives each year, I remember December 23, 2001 and Flight 63 with the shoe bomber; Richard Reed. My sister Elizabeth, brother-in-law Jacques and nephew Bennie were on Flight 63 traveling from Paris to Miami. My sister and I lost our mother earlier that year to cancer and our father died from leukemia in 2000, so we made sure to see each other this Christmas.

On the morning of December 23, 2001 I flew into Miami from San Jose, CA to meet up with my family at our timeshare. I arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon and decided to take a nap and rest up for my sister’s arrival. After about an hour, my cousin woke me up to answer my phone. When I did, it was my friend Punette and he said, “Anne your sister’s plane is on fire, it’s all over Yahoo!”. At this point I knew something was up, but a fire on a plane sounded incorrect. Planes don’t just fly through the air on fire, explosions yes, crashing yes, but someone started a fire on a plane, no. The first thing I did was call American Airlines and turn on the television. After being on hold for a few minutes, the airlines picked up. When I asked about my sister’s flight I was given very limited information regarding the flight, but I was told the plane was going to land in Boston. This was comforting, but really crazy! Then the news reports started coming through CNN, so I sat with my family and we all watched waiting for more details.Then my sister, Jacque and Ben appeared on CNN. And a huge relief set in and I knew everything was going to be alright. During the interview a reporter questioned what my sister thought when she saw Richard Reed for the first time, my sister said, “I thought he was a druggy.” OK, so that totally sounds like something our mother would have said!!!

After being interrogated like criminals in Boston, Elizabeth, Jacques and Bennie were on their way to Miami to spend the Holidays with the family. We were all very grateful to see each other and that was one of our very best Holiday vacation.

Following is the article from the Sun-Sentinel, I love the part where my sister says, “It makes me just want to hug my sister and be with my family.”

COPYRIGHT 2001 Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service

MIAMI _ Hours before finally landing in Miami early Sunday morning, the enormity of what could have happened on board Flight 63 from Paris began to sink in for Elizabeth Haynes.

“I suddenly realized, God, we could have all died,” Haynes said holding her baby son at Miami International Airport. “It’s really unbelievable. It makes me just want to hug my sister and be with my family.”

Haynes, 37, formerly of Plantation, Fla., and now of Paris, got that chance, thanks to the quick-thinking crew and passengers who subdued a Sri Lankan national authorities said boarded an American Airlines Boeing 767 jetliner with explosives hidden in both of his high-top sneakers.

Identified by French authorities as Tariq Raja, the suspect was being held on charges of interfering with a flight crew on the plane carrying 185 holiday travelers. He held a British passport bearing the name of Richard Colvin Reid when Flight 63 left at Charles de Gaulle International Airport on Saturday at 11 a.m. Paris time.

Arriving at Miami International Airport on a different flight more than 24 hours later, many of the passengers said they had no idea how much danger they were in until they watched news reports during a diversion to Boston’s Logan Airport, where they were searched, questioned and made to wait for 10 hours in “baggage claim hell.”

“We were told the guy had a match, and somebody said he was trying to light his shoe on fire. So you know (we thought) he’s crazy,” said Geoffrey Bessin, 31, who works for a software company in France but was visiting family in Miami. “We never really considered the gravity of the situation.”

Some of the passengers, though, took note of the tall, bedraggled man in Row 29 long before witnesses said he tried to ignite his shoe shortly after the lunch of salmon and chicken was served.

Arlette Debry, 40, said she had an unsettling feeling the moment she boarded the plane in Paris and sat in Row 30, directly behind the odd-looking man. He smells badly, she whispered to her husband, and looks “crazy.” She remembers briefly worrying about her two young sons sitting in the seats across the aisle.

“It was an impression, not good to say, but I thought he was … scary,” Debry said. “He was very tall and very impressive. He was the only one wearing a hat. He did not want to eat. He did not want to drink.”

Debry kept her disquiet to herself until, just after lunch, she smelled a burning odor, like plastic, coming from the window seat in front of her. Summoning a nearby flight attendant, she touched her finger to her nose and pointed to the man in front of her.

“The stewardess looked at him and she saw he was burning his shoes,” Debry said. “She called, `Help! Help!’ She poured water on him and all of the men who were around jumped on him.”

One of them was Depry’s husband, Eric, an executive with a French tour operator who was roused from a nap by the commotion. He grabbed Raja’s arms, while several other men grabbed his legs and his hair, knotted in a ponytail.

“We tried to find something to tie him up,” Eric Debry, 42, said. “There were no handcuffs, which is pretty incredible when you think about it.”

Someone yelled for a belt and several men yanked theirs from their trousers and handed them over. Eric Debry was among them. So was Leandro Bolanos. The high school student, 18, who was heading home to Nicaragua from Belgium, went to investigate after he heard the flight attendant’s screams.

“I walked up and saw smoke coming out of his hands. He was holding something that was burning. I guess it was matches,” Bolanos said. “It was about 30 seconds of terror, and then it was over.”

But not quite. Calm and order returned quickly to the cabin, but a lingering worry hung in the air: Might the man in Row 29 have accomplices on board? Raja certainly wasn’t going anywhere. He was bound to his seat and tranquilized by two doctors who injected him with Valium from an in-flight medical kit. Still, the horrific events of Sept. 11 were fresh in everybody’s mind, and passengers took to heart admonitions from the crew.

“The pilot made the rounds to (assure) everybody the situation was under control,” Bessin said. “He said: `Stay in your seat. Get to know your neighbors. We’re diverting to Boston but things are under control.’ The stewardesses … were accompanying us to the bathroom just to make sure there was no funny business.”

While praising the crew for its discipline, Marcos Obermaier, 42, who was on business in Paris, was left to wonder what might have happened under different circumstances.

“God forbid there was nobody around him,” the computer salesman from Miami said. “Or there was only older people or small women or children _ he could have accomplished his goal. We’re lucky we had the right people at the right place at the right time but you can’t depend on that every time.”

But this time, on Flight 63 from Paris to Miami, the right people were there. And for this, and for his wife Elizabeth Haynes and 9-month-old son, Benjamin, Jacques Valleau stood up in the aisle shortly before touching down in Miami and spoke from his heart.

“I gave a speech,” the fashion industry executive said. “I thanked God. I thanked the crew. I thanked everybody we were alive. I was just so happy we all were going to be spending Christmas with our families.”

The passengers applauded.

___

(c) 2001 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.