September 11, 2001 Part 2
So, the senior training Sergeant and myself made the drop at EWR. It was right next to the
airport fire station. Again, the airport was already shut down and we were concerned we wouldn’t be able to depart. The NJSP has a great relationship with the controllers at EWR to this day. In fact, I’ll mention one of my great friends who I didn’t know in person at the time, Ray Adams.
Ray was a US Navy air traffic control specialist with the designation AC2 when he completed his tour. Ray worked the overseas route in Bermuda and made his way to New York Center during his transition into the civilian world. Ray ultimately ended up at EWR tower and coincidently, his first day on the job there was September 10, 2001. I’ll let Ray contribute his thoughts in a later post.
Upon dropping our passengers, we repositioned the aircraft to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) hospital pad where the NJSP North Unit was based. At the time, the NJSP Aviation Bureau and public partners UMDNJ and West Jersey Hospital System, now Virtua hospital system, provided sole on scene medevac response services to the State. Again, that’s another topic of conversation later. The Sikorsky we were in was outfitted for medevac mode and placed into service as a third medevac aircraft ready to go to work. A first for the State of New Jersey.
While at UMDNJ, myself and another junior pilot began the foraging for box lunches and water. We had no idea when we would be able to eat or drink so we tried to do our part by taking care of our other crewmembers since we weren’t yet operational pilots. Basically, we were self loading baggage that dialed in radio frequencies for the pilot in command.
The aircraft I was in and our North and South Units, both full time air ambulances, then repositioned to Teterboro (TEB) airport to the PAPD hanger aircraft along with the same Bell 206L3 that I stared my day in. There was a lot of hurry up and wait. We could see the fires burning from the ramp. I remember Aviation South Unit Head Anthony Marinello showing up. If there was action, Tony was there. At some point during the day he jumped into the Bell aircraft and joined in to help wherever he could. Tony is another story I can go on about. He’s a great friend.
While at TEB, I called my wife several times before I could finally get a cell signal. The lines were jammed and calls were dropped. When I did get through and I reassured her I was in a safe location and that it was going to be a long few days ahead. I told her what I was seeing and I could tell she was shocked by the silence on the phone. We discussed getting our girls, who were in grade school at the time, home and secure. Her office had set up a television set so she was already watching the coverage and had already reached out to the school where they assured her the kids were safe and they didn’t talk about what was happening. I really appreciated that at the time. The girls were in a small Catholic school and the Principal, Diane Bischer, treated each child as if they were her own. Family.
On to Liberty State Park. We repositioned from TEB as a flight of three medevac aircraft to Liberty State Park in New Jersey, during a total shut down of the National Airspace System (NAS) to await tasking for medical evacuations which ultimately would never come. The picture in the header was taken from one of the medical crew that was with me and graciously shared. Cell phone pictures were not really a thing at the time. Those were the days and times when we could slam the folding phones closed if we were displeased with a conversation. Us old guys know that feeling of that satisfaction! We had digital pocket cameras to capture cool pictures of some of the scenery we would see while doing our jobs.
The image doesn’t do justice of standing in a field, looking across the Hudson River at lower Manhattan, seeing buildings on fire, smelling the odors that really can’t be described. I remember looking at the field hospital that was set up at Liberty State Park. I had never seen such a coordinated effort. Amazing. Rows and rows of hospital beds with IV bags hanging waiting. Long backboards. Straps. Bandages. Pallets of food, drinks, and supplies shrink wrapped and ready to be deployed. Only, it never was needed.
Teams of Doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMTs and other first responders waiting to help. It soon became clear that there would be no survivors brought to our location for medical evacuation. We would wait anyway.