Local News

Raleigh Pilot Talks About Sept. 11 Attacks

Posted Updated
Switch to classic wral.com

RALEIGH — None of us can even imagine what it was like for the thousands of commercial pilots who were in the sky the morning of September 11. An American Airlines pilot from Raleigh is talking about his experience.

Dennis Esch lost several of his American Airlines co-workers in the terrorist attacks. He also knows he could have been one of them.

Esch flew out of New York's Kennedy Airport bound for Los Angeles that Tuesday morning. He was piloting the same type plane the hijackers targeted -- a 767.

About two hours into his flight across country, Esch started learning of the tragedies in New York and Washington.

"I did make the P.A. to the passengers, and I was wondering what kind of threat we were under. But you can't spend a whole lot of time dwelling on that. You can't and you don't have time to," he says.

Within minutes, Esch landed the 767 safely in Kansas City. Back in Raleigh, his wife Betty had been watching the horror on TV, worried her husband's plane may have been hijacked.

"I was just like, thank the Lord. Just thank God that he was okay," says Betty after her husband called.

Since the attacks, analysts have recommended everything from arming pilots to putting federal marshals on planes. Esch prefers not to talk about what has and will be done, except to say security is already getting better.

"I think the specifics of our security procedures should be kept a secret for obvious reasons," says Esch.

With 17 years as a commercial pilot and 21 years as an active and reserve fighter jet pilot, Esch has a strong sense of duty and patriotism. He believes one of the best ways to combat terrorism is to get back on board and fly.

"If we let them stop us in living everyday life, then, they've effectively won," he says.

So far, Esch says that his flights have had far fewer passengers since air travel resumed after the attacks. It is estimated that the airlines will lay off 100,000 workers because of lost revenue.