A TWA pilot who took evasive action and avoided collisions with hijacked aircraft headed to attack the World Trade Center and the US Capitol on Sept. 11, 2001, is being remembered 22 years later as an unsung hero by passengers aboard the fortunate flight.
Buried deep in the history of 9/11 when 2,977 people were killed at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and on the four planes commandeered by Islamic terrorists, is TWA Flight 3 that took off from JFK in New York. If not for the skill of its pilot, the flight number could be as notable as the others.
The pilot commanding TWA Flight 3 took “evasive action” not once, but twice before safely landing the plane in Dayton, Ohio.
The first skilled maneuver was to avoid colliding with United Flight 175, which struck the World Trade Center, and then Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, according to a New York-based flight attendant who was on the crew.
“There were two near-misses,” she confirmed during an interview with the New York Post.
Regrettably, in the aftermath of the massive terrorist attacks, the coolheaded pilot was never publicly identified or praised in the 9/11 Commission Report or other accounts.
Nevertheless, to the passengers on the notable, if not somewhat anonymous flight, the aircraft commander was a hero.
One of the passengers aboard TWA Flight 3 was recently retired FDNY Lt. Charlie Hubbard, who exclaimed, “He saved our lives, without a doubt.”
Hubbard recently recounted the harrowing experience on X, formerly Twitter.
“We’re lucky to be alive,” said Hubbard, who had just retired from Engine 5 on the Lower East Side and was headed to Hawaii with his brother, James, a nurse, who died of cancer six years ago.
TWA Flight 3 was a Boeing 767 that took off from JFK at 8:47 a.m. destined for St. Louis. It departed almost exactly when hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 was the first to crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m.
The TWA aircraft commander is simply remembered as “George” by the flight attendant, who could not recall his last name, the New York Post reported.
Hubbard referred to the pilot as “George Vasquez” in a social media post and said “(Flight attendant) Martie, working in first class, heard the proximity alarms from the flight deck as well. It was a very close call.”
I am no longer a rock.
A recent comment I made about my experience on the morning of September 11, 2001 received 1.8 million views on X, formerly Twitter. In the comment, I wrote about how I was beginning my retirement from the NYC Fire Department where I was a Lieutenant.… pic.twitter.com/awx3KR8CN7
— Charlie Hub (@TravelsCharlie) August 14, 2023
As the TWA Boeing 767 ascended in the clear, blue sky, passengers were stunned when they saw massive plumes of smoke emitting from the World Trade Center.
Within minutes, the airbus confronted United Flight 175 as it headed toward NYC from Boston, the flight attendant recalled. “We were scissoring up and down,” she emphasized, referring to a defensive maneuver.
“I thought we were going to crash,” one of the terrified TWA passengers told ABC News in a resurfaced video clip.
The plane was “shaking” as it “went down and came back up,” he said. “And then, you can just see, like the plane just bypassed us really close.”
The TWA flight attendants pushed food carts up against the cockpit door to guard against a possible hijacking once they learned about United Flight 175 striking the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.
Moreover, the pilot cautioned the crew “he’d be standing behind the door with an ax,” the New York flight attendant recalled.
At one point during the ominous series of events, the flight attendant entered the cockpit to remove food trays, and overheard a warning communicated to all flights: “This is a national emergency. By order of the federal government, any plane still in the sky in 20 minutes will be shot down by friendly fire.”
While they remained in the air, passengers who were able to make calls to loved ones began alerting other fliers of additional doom. They “started screaming that the Pentagon was hit,” the flight attendant recalled.
Terrorists on American Airlines Flight 77 used the aircraft as a missile and crashed into the DOD headquarters at 9:37 a.m.
The “proximity alarms” in the TWA cockpit warned of another aircraft flying within 1,000 feet.
As a result, the pilot once again took evasive action to avoid the path of Flight 93, out of Newark, which was heading toward Washington, D.C., the flight attendant said.
At 10:03 a.m., Flight 93 crashed in a field in Shanksville, PA, after brave passengers fought to take control from the hijackers.
Initially, the pilot commanding Flight 3 planned to make an emergency landing in Indianapolis but was then diverted to Dayton, reported the New York Post.
After the unsung hero landed the plane in Dayton, he confirmed, matter-of-factly, that he had avoided an aircraft that flew into the World Trade Center.
“Well, he was up there when we were coming from New York. So what we had to do was — they (flight control) were not talking to him, and he was changing his heading and his altitude, so they cleared us to deviate however we had to stay away from him,” he told ABC World News Tonight, which did not identify him during the interview.
“We had him in sight — it was a nice day in New York. We were out of the clouds, which helped a lot. We just, you know, dodged him.”
Two days later, the TWA crew arrived at the St. Louis hub and learned just how close they came to the second skyjacked jet, the flight attendant said: “We missed their tail by 500 feet.”
Mary Schiavo is a former inspector general of the US Transportation Department and one of several attorneys who won $500 million in airline settlements for the families of those killed. She said the fact that no collision occurred helps explain why the near misses became somewhat anonymous amid the catastrophic aftermath.
Any flight crew that takes evasive action to avoid a collision would have to report it to their airline, which in turn would file a form with the Federal Aviation Administration, Schiavo said.
American Airlines later absorbed TWA in 2001 and did not return messages from the New York Post.
A spokesman for the FAA, when asked for any reports on 9/11 near-collisions, provided none. However, the FAA response does not negate the firsthand stories, nor the televised interview of the pilot by ABC which recounted the “evasive action” necessary to avoid a mid-air collision.