A strange and scary shadow of 9/11 crossed our path over the weekend. I was working in my basement studio Sunday morning, when a small airplane fell out of the sky. It passed over my home, shaking the house with its prop wash, and crashed into a neighbor’s garage across the street and 3 houses down from where we live. Maybe you heard about it on the news?
The only warning was the sound of a diving airplane, followed by those house-shaking chug-chug-chug prop sounds (sounded like like the podracers in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), followed by a dull WHOOMPH!
I knew immediately what happened, and ran upstairs to see if I could help , pausing only long enough to confirm my fears with the neighbor out back.
Because of all the adrenaline flowing, I’m pretty hazy on the exact sequence of what happened next. In the following minutes, I threw on clothes and shoes (I’d been working in my PJs), called 911 and the Fire Department (got their answering machine), and ran outside, hoping to help survivors, and wondering if my garden hose would be long enough to reach the site if there was a fire.
It wasn’t, and it wouldn’t have helped, as you can see from the video. Somehow, my camera came with me, though I don’t remember if I grabbed it on my way out or (more likely) went back in to get it. I was glad the kids were off at college, but I knew they’re want to see what the excitement was all about. I took the video standing on the corner of my yard.
You can see how many people showed up on the street quickly, looking to help. We soon figured out that no one on the ground was in danger — in fact, no one on the ground was hurt at all — something of a miracle. The pilot wasn’t so lucky — and our condolences go out ot his family. But, in another way, maybe he was lucky, because it’s either amazing luck or amazing skill that caused him to miss all the houses in our subdivision, which are packed together like sardines (in zoning conditions only the 1920s could love). There are probably six houses within 50 feet of where the plane fell. All of them are still standing.
Here’s a news report that used my video and talked to me the day after the crash. (Their reporter was very nice.)
I didn’t film for very long, because the smoke was billowing huge, black, and toxic looking. So I retreated into my house to close all the windows, in case I needed fresh air. (I have less than half of normal human lung capacity.) I also called my family to let them know I was okay and so was the house. Then I went back outside, because our great Volunteer Fire Department had arrived and knocked down the smoke and flames in nothing flat. Talking with neighbors, we tried to piece together what happened.
No one’s really sure yet, and the FAA says it may take months to figure it out, but all of us know that we were incredibly fortunate that day. The plane passed directly over my house on its way down. It passed by my neighbor as she pulled into her driveway with a car full of kids. And it hit a garage where, just two minutes earlier, a woman had gotten some meat out of her freezer. No people were hurt — not even a scratch; all nearby houses are still standing, though two were scorched. Amazing. Miraculous, even.
Here’s another news report showing the wreckage from above. Yow.
The only loss, aside from the pilot, was two cars, an ATV, two sheds, a garage, and a few other odds and ends. One of the cars belonged to the guy across the street. He was letting the people who own the house look at it, because they were considering buying. Over the next two days, I didn’t hear him or anyone else complain about possessions lost. We all knew it could have been much, much worse.
The day after, some neighbors and I went back to the scene with the news reporters. I was still feeling pretty jittery, and so was the woman across the street. Being September 10th, it was hard not to think about other planes falling out of the sky. We had, we thought, a better sense of what 9/11 must have been like for our friends, family, and fellow Americans in NYC. But here in Kansasville, we had been a lot luckier.
For which all of us are deeply grateful.
Two days later, the wreckage has been carted away, the news vans are gone (chasing other stories that didn’t end as well), and things have pretty much returned to normal in our little town.
For that, too, we are profoundly grateful.
God bless. Hug your kids and loved ones. Watch the skies.
Stephen D. Sullivan is an award-winning author and artist whose stories include Ghosts of 9/11, a collection written in the aftermath of our national disaster.